By Nazanin Kamdar, Rooz Online
While Iran’s nuclear issue is now at its most sensitive level and the domestic battles between the strands of principlists (groups that claim to be loyal to the original aims of the 1979 revolution) and Ahmadinejad’s administration over disregarding the law, adventurism and unthoughtful economic policies are now recurring on a daily basis, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of the powerful State Expediency Council critiqued the foreign, domestic and economic policies of the administration in unusual terms and while stressing on the “problematic” nature of the human rights situation in Iran called for direct talks with the US.
Rafsanjani’s remarks, which were made in a conversation with the Tehran-based quarterly journal “International Studies”, not only contained a proposal for direct talks with the US but also spoke of conciliation with Saudi Arabia.
Talking about domestic issues, Rafsanjani said that despite the growth in Iran’s oil revenues, the level of unemployment stood at “unnatural” levels. In his remarks, he also made a reference to his earlier infamous comments about the nuclear bomb and Israel and said they were not “threats” but “useful advice for Israel.”
Direct Talks With the US
As reported by the local media and Aftab website, in this interview Rafsanjani talked about the nuclear dossier and the need for direct talks with the US. “The current attitude towards the US in which we neither talk with it nor have any relations cannot be sustained. The US is the most powerful country in the worlds. What is the difference in our view between Europe and the US, China and the US, and Russia the US? If we have talks with these countries (Europe, China, Russia), why not with the US? Talks do not mean we are surrendering to them. We talk to see whether they will accept our position or we will accept theirs; that is all,” Rafsanjani said.
The former two-time president also commented on his efforts to establish relations with the US when he was the head of the executive. “I wanted to establish relations with Egypt, but could not. I wanted to start negotiations with the US, on the conditions that I had set, but could not. I could not is not the same as I did not want to,” Rafsanjani said.
Rafsanjani enjoys close relations with Arab leaders in the Persian Gulf region and without naming Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he held him responsible for the strained relations between Iran and these countries and said, “Relations with Saudi Arabia are not a small feat for the region. First, it is a wealthy country and most Islamic clerics have some kind of relations with Saudi Arabia because of the Hajj (annual pilgrimage to the Islamic holy sites in Mecca), and the pilgrimages, and they also have interests. They (the Saudis) repair their mosques, provide them other benefits and publish the Quran. They provide a lot of resources for the spread of religious affairs of others. What the Al Zahra university used to do in Egypt is now largely done by Saudi Arabia, this includes academic work. Most importantly is the issue of oil. If Saudi Arabia had good relations with us, could the West have created these sanctions against us? Only Saudi Arabia can replace Iran (in oil). Saudi Arabia does not have to do anything, if only it produced oil according to the OPEC shares, nobody could attack us. This is because the world economy cannot operate without our oil. I think it is still possible to have good relations (with the Saudis). But there are some people here that you see do not want this. You as the experts in international affairs and foreign policy know this. If they utter just one irresponsible word, there will be an immediate reaction. Some of the harsh rhetoric that comes from both sides is not acceptable and must be corrected.”
Turning to the Middle East, Rafsanjani criticized and rejected using Lebanese Hezbollah and Hamas to “create trouble for others” and said, “If we pursued our assistance to Lebanon and Palestine through the right international policy then there would be no problem. If we correct the atmosphere of our relations with the world then we must separate this issue. These (aid to Lebanon and Palestine) are defensible issues provided we do not use them to create problems for others and let them do their own things. When the regime does not pursue adventurism in the world, then such issues (assistance to Palestine and Lebanon) are tolerated.”
In unprecedented remarks on the nuclear issue and Israel, Rafsanjani told the journal, “We really have no intention of building nuclear weapons and do not have nuclear military systems. I myself once advised the Israeli occupying regime that nuclear weapons were not in Israel’s interest. If a nuclear war ever broke out one day, Israel is a small country and cannot tolerate nuclear weapons. It is a small country and all of its resources will be easily destroyed. Even though they interpreted this advice to be a threat, we deeply believe that the region must have no nuclear weapons and this has been a principle of our policy and is now.”
Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (L) with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (file photo)
Rafsanjani also spoke about media activists, the closure of media and imprisonment of political activists and said they were “beyond the will of governments” in Iran and added, “We tried to have the smallest number of prisoners. But there were some situations that were beyond our control and certain individuals did this (closed newspapers or imprisoned journalists/activists). When I was president, there was not a single case when I agreed to have political prisoners. We knew what a prison is. Closing a newspaper was a taboo for me. If it happened it was outside my control. During Mr. Khatami’s presidency a number of newspapers were closed, even though he did not want this to happen. Others were doing that. We tried to keep the religious minority groups happy. We all tried this. But these things take time. There are always people in a society who behave differently.”
Rafsanjani also said that when the special UN human rights rapporteurs on Iran visited the country, “things were not as bad, and added, “Human rights issues were on the path of being gradually resolved.”
Suspicious Unemployment and Inflation
Towards the end of his lengthy conversation with the journal, Rafsanjani talked about the economic conditions of the country and said that the current administration was not on good terms with the public. “The solutions to these problems must be pursued through management. If our current executive branch had the scientific, technical and right attitude and used effective management, our social relations would be fine, we would have good relations with the public and we would have no problems with the world, and these events would not take place.”
He continued, “We the large oil revenues that we now have and the new export potential that is available to us, particularly in the area of petrochemical products and services and even other material, we should not be having any problems. We think this unemployment and these other issues are unnatural. Unemployment is unnecessarily high with this high oil revenue and production capacity that we have in the country. It all comes down to management. If a powerful management takes the helm of the country, these problems can be solved very soon through special spikes.”
The Right Responds to Hashemi
Rafsanjani’s remarks prompted a wide response in the media and were met with some criticism by supporters of the administration.
Raja news for example published a report on Rafsanjani’s conversation and wrote, “Rafsanjani’s remarks come at a time when Islamic awakening is at its height and the enmity of the US and its allies during these 33 years has reached new heights and most senior authorities in the country are in unison with the calls of the brave people of Iran in saying that there is no benefit in having talks or relations with the US. The unfortunate part is that these remarks are made at a time the Islamic awakening and anti American feelings in the region are reaching their height. It is strange that Hashemi Rafsanjani would be making such remarks at this time and intensifies the gap between his views and the people and Iranian and world revolutionaries. The remarks indicate that Rafsanjani is confounded in understanding the domestic and international situation.”
Sarat News, another mouthpiece of the extremists also wrote, “Rafsanjani’s insulting and insinuating remarks try to present him and his associates to be in a position to resolve issues. In reality, since reformists have split up and lost hope in Khatami are now trying to present Rafsanjani and pursue this in the upcoming presidential elections. What is important is that the new tactic of the reformers, which were given the green light by Rafsanjani as the person who can tackle the current impasse, is what the radicals have created for the reformist camp and who want to use Rafsanjani. But they are not aware that people are far more alert than to be deceived by such defunct people as Rafsanjani and return to rejected groups such as the reformers.”
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