The Last Word: Javad Zarif--Finding the 'Missing Link'

Last Tuesday fiery Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proudly boasted that his country had joined "the club of nuclear countries" after successfully enriching uranium. The move defied U.N. calls for Tehran to suspend its nuclear program, and came on the eve of an inspection visit by Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Even with the threat of U.N. sanctions looming and rumors of a U.S. military strike swirling, Ahmadinejad vowed that Iran would continue its course. NEWSWEEK's Malcolm Beith spoke to Javad Zarif, Iran's permanent representative to the United Nations, about the conflict last week. Excerpts:

ZARIF: We made it very clear that there are two fundamental concepts. One is that Iran has inalienable rights under the NPT [nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] and respect for these rights--both for Iran as well as any other country [that is a] member of the NPT--is imperative for the authority and integrity of the treaty. The second aspect of our position has been that Iran wants to exercise its rights in an atmosphere of tranquillity where there is no concern about any proliferation suspicions, and for that we have been and are prepared to negotiate in order to allay any concerns.

No, because we have said that Iran will not respond well to pressure. A suspension of the uranium-enrichment program was in place for over two years. That would have provided the necessary time to reach a politically acceptable negotiated solution. So we need to find out: "What is that missing link that prevented a negotiated solution?" I would submit that the missing link is the necessary political will, combined with a mentality that through pressure imposition and intimidation, political results can be achieved.

We are open to working with everybody. If you have a more reasonable and realistic approach to the resolution of this problem then you have a better chance of success. Until now, the positions offered by Russia and China have been more conducive to a successful outcome.

Yes. One of the possibilities presented by Iran was to create a regional consortium so that various countries could have a share both in ownership and operation of the facility. It [would] be a consortium, jointly owned and operated. [But] every proposal that has been on the table has failed to receive any serious consideration.

Iran does not want to invite sanctions. We're not seeking confrontation. But at the same time the prospect of Iran accepting an imposition because that carries with it some sticks is not a prospect that is appealing to the Iranian population.

I don't think Iran should respond to it. I think what is being talked about in Washington is a threat to the international community as a whole and a threat to the rule of law. We live in the 21st century, we have a body of international law that prohibits the threat of wars--not even the use of wars but the threat of wars--and the United States continues to live in the 19th century. Somebody must remind President Bush that it's an outdated statement to say that "all options are on the table."

No, the Iranian president has never made any threats against any other country. In fact, Iran has been on the receiving side of threats from Israel which go back long before President Ahmadinejad ran for office.

The rhetoric that is used by the U.S. administration as well as Israeli officials against Iran is by far more fiery and more provocative than any statement that has come out of Iran. Iran's position is very clear: We don't intend to attack any country. We've never done that in the past, we'll never do it in the future. I wonder whether Israel or the United States can make that statement.

Iran doesn't want to have weapons. We believe that those who possess nuclear weapons lack the necessary logic to understand that being able to destroy this planet is simply ridiculous and inhuman. We believe Iran has the right to any technology. That is different from even attempting to [possess] a weapon that we consider to be illegal--for everybody--and illegitimate.