United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Rouhani in his own words: On Nukes, Talks

      In mid-2005, President-elect Hassan Rouhani gave a detailed speech outlining Iran’s nuclear needs and its negotiating strategy with the outside world. The 39-page speech is the best indication – in his own words—of his views on Iran’s controversial program. Most notably, he told senior Iranian officials that the government could have avoided problems with the international community if it had been more open about its nuclear activities from the start. Rouhani also claimed Iran “never wanted” to build a bomb. These are excerpts from his briefing to Iran’s Supreme Cultural Revolution Council shortly before he resigned as chief nuclear negotiator after differences with then newly elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—who is now his predecessor.

On Iran's Nuclear Needs
            “The Islamic Republic of Iran 15 or 16 years ago ― that is in [the Islamic years] 1366 or 1367 [1987‐1989 on the Western calendar] ― started to pursue fuel cycle technology. We pursued this technology because we always wanted to make use of nuclear energy, wanted to have nuclear power plants, and wanted to be able to produce the needed fuel for those plants ourselves…
            “The argument that because Iran has oil and gas, it should not have this technology is not a correct argument. The United States maintains that Iran does not need nuclear power plants, but the Europeans say it is Iran’s right to have nuclear power plants and it should have them .Iran has the right to worry about its long‐term future. Iran’s oil and gas resources will be exhausted one day, and it should have this technology…
            “If we can reach a political agreement to work with the world and activate our fuel cycle, that would be very desirable. We think there is a chance we would be successful in this undertaking.”
 
On Secrecy
            “Some of you say that if wehad said from the start that we wanted to have the fuel cycle, the situation would havebeen easier. Yes, if we had decided to declare our intention at the beginning, if we hadtold the IAEA that we intended to build a UCF (uranium conversion facility) plant at the same time that we started construction at Esfahan, if we had announced our facilities at Natanz from the start, we would not have any problems now, or our problems would have been far less than they are today.
            In fact, this is the very reason that our case has become so complicated. Theyask: If you truly were after fuel cycle, why did you do it secretly?! This is the root of all problems.
            If we had done it openly, the problem would have been far simpler. In thebeginning, we decided not to go public for a number of reasons. For example, pressurefrom the West to deny us primary materials, and reasons like that. We wanted to keep itsecret for a while. Of course, we all knew at that some point this would become publicknowledge…
            “Would presenting a complete picture of our past nuclear activities solve the problem? If we presented a complete picture, that picture itself could take us to the U.N. Security Council. If we did not present a complete picture, this would have been considered a violation of the resolution, and we would go to the U.N. Security Council on the grounds that we had violated the resolution.”
 
On "Lying" 
Unidentified SCRC member: “Do you mean to say that we have lied about this?”
Rouhani: “No, we have not lied. In all cases, we have told them the truth. But in some cases, we may not have disclosed information in a timely manner…
            “Nevertheless, a few more issues remain, some of which we did not know anything about even when we were talking with the three [European foreign] ministers in Tehran. One is the high degree of contamination in our country… Having uranium that has been enriched more than 20 percent means a country is trying to build weapons… When the [IAEA] inspectors inspected our facilities, they found traces of highly enriched uranium… This caused a new uproar.
            We were taken aback, too, because we did not know what caused this contamination. The only thing we were sure of was that we were not responsible for it. Some people in Iran even argued that the IAEA inspectors, influenced by the United States, brought contaminated handkerchiefs to Iran and presented them as evidence of contamination here. It later became clear that some of the centrifuges that we had purchased from the dealer were used.”
 
On the Brazil and Pakistan models
            “If one day we are able to complete the fuel cycle and the world sees that it has no choice, that we do possess the technology, then the situation will be different. The world did not want Pakistan to have an atomic bomb or Brazil to have the fuel cycle, but Pakistan built its bomb and Brazil has its fuel cycle, and the world started to work with them.”
 
On the Libyan Model
            “We also did not know that Libya had purchased [nuclear] equipment from the same middleman we had used to purchase some equipment… The Libyans told everything, from A to Z, to the British and the Americans. They gave everything, all the equipment that they had purchased from that dealer and others, to the Americans and did everything that the Americans and the British asked them to do. With regard to Middle East peace, Israel, cutting ties with the Palestinians, and stopping their financial support of Palestinian groups, and so forth, they did what the Americans and the British wanted…
            Therefore, when they talk about the Libyan model, it is not that they only want to collect the centrifuges, put them on a boat, and ship them to Washington. Instead, the Libyan model means a move toward recognizing Israel, cutting ties with all the liberation movements in the world, and everything else that Qadhafi promised; this is the ʺLibyan model.ʺ You now see that Libya has completely embraced the Middle East peace process. It supports the Middle East peace process to the point of cutting all ties with the Palestinian combatants and ceasing all aid. In fact, it has made a 180‐degree turn.”
 
On Negotiations
            “We only agreed to suspend activities in those areas where we did not have technical problems… While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the facility in Esfahan, but we still had a long way to go to complete the project. In fact, by creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work in Esfahan…
            “Even if we do not achieve any results, we will negotiate with the Europeans for a few months and ultimately reach the same point that we are at now. At least we would put off going to the U.N. Security Council. If we were to be taken to the U.N. Security Council in November, we would push that date back a year. This would allow us to justify our position and give final notice to the public, while at the same time we would have an opportunity to work on the technology and solve our legal issues with the IAEA…
            “If we decide to start [uranium] enrichment in the face of opposition by the West, we must find the best time and the most favorable conditions, and if we decide to work with the West, we must utilize all our capabilities and everything that is in our power to achieve our objectives. We should not rush into this. We must move very carefully, in a very calculated manner…
            “We are a member of the IAEA and a member of the NPT (of course, the former parliament ratified those treaties). We did so to reduce the political and propaganda pressure ‐‐ and other forms of pressure ‐‐ against us. It is for the same reason that we have accepted the Chemical Convention (according to which they can come here and inspect any site they want with 12‐hours notice)…
            “This is a very, very complex and difficult effort. Personally, I am not very optimistic, but I am not without hope, either. In fact, I cannot even say that I am pessimistic and think that there is no way and that we are at an impasse. We must go forward. We may not achieve everything that we want 100 percent.”
 
On the United States
            “When America’s victory in Iraq became evident… they started to think that conditions were right for them to raise the issue of Iran... The idea was to plan sanctions or even military operations against Iran, or at least put political and economic pressure on this country…
            “From the very beginning, the Americans were telling the Europeans: The Iranians are lying, the Iranians have not told you everything, and the Iranians have only revealed part of their program. The Europeans in turn were saying: We trust them…
            “We suspended enrichment activities to the limits required by the resolution, but not more than that. They [Europeans] also had committed themselves to removing Iran’s case from the IAEA agenda at the June [2004] meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors. In any case, because of the opposition by the United States, the outcry by other parties, and the start of the activities in Esfahan, this did not come to pass. As a result, we ended our suspension and resumed our part‐making and assembling activities…
            “Of course, there is a basic difference here between the Europeans and the United States. The difference is that the United States is bent on taking us to the U.N. Security Council and solving all its problems with us there... They intend to raise all of their issues, such as the Middle East, terrorism, and the rest, there… But the Europeans do not want to create a big problem for us…
            “If not for the American and Israeli pressures, our issues would have been solved months ago. You know, we even could have reached an accord with the Europeans about the fuel cycle based on a certain formula. At least we could have reached an agreement with Germany and France, but the United States and England interfered and did not allow the agreement to go through… Nevertheless, in spite of the pressure from the United States, the games by the Zionists, and the Zionist political, economic, and propaganda influences in the Western countries, relatively speaking the Islamic Republic of Iran and the ruling system have proved their effectiveness in this case.”
 
On Europe
            “Europe today is a little different from the Europe of last year [2004]… There were only three or four countries in the European Union that cooperated closely with the United States. Now, ten new countries have joined the Union, and most of these countries are pro‐American...
            “Europeans fear that the Americans, through increasing pressure and overtime, might be able to break the regime in Iran, and this would not be to their advantage. It is not in their interest to see a pro‐American system in Iran. They also do not want the increasing pressure to force the Islamic Republic of Iran ultimately into complete cooperation with the United States; this would not be in the European interest, either. As the conditions are today, the Europeans have good relations with us. If the conditions change, those relations might weaken…
            “What the Europeans want in their heart of hearts is to put a list in front of us and convince us to give up the fuel cycle. For example, they say that they will give us atomic power plants and light water research plants and guarantee our fuel, or the IAEA guarantees access to fuel and gives us assurances. In other words, they would say that they will help us in the areas of technology and industry, take important economic steps, and help us with advanced technologies on the condition that we give up nuclear fuel. Thus, their idea of a deal is to grant us some concessions in return for a long‐term suspension (several years, for instance), until we can reach an agreement to produce fuel with certain assurances…
            “Overall, it is clear that Europe is not our friend and that it does not have a good relationship with Islam… We are not sure about any of the promises that the Europeans are making, unless we ultimately reach a final agreement and see in practice whether they remain true to what they say. We do not have any trust in them. Unfortunately, they do not trust us, either. They think we are out to dupe them, and we think in the same way, that they want to trick and cheat us. Therefore, we should build trust, step by step and in practice.”
 
On China and Russia
            “We have had a few tests to see if we can get help from the Russians, but unfortunately, so far, we have not achieved the desired results. They say you can have the fuel cycle, but you cannot have the fuel cycle and build confidence at the same time…
            “I reached some agreements with the Russian foreign minister in a meeting that lasted for two‐and‐a‐half hours. At the end of the meeting, when I wanted to summarize our discussions, he immediately retracted and said: Yes, we did agree on these matters, but I must raise these issues with the president and get permission from him; also, we should consult with our experts regarding these matters… It is very difficult to work with the Russians…
            “Perhaps it is somewhat easier to work with Chinese. In other words, the Russians have certain concerns about us that the Chinese do not have, or not to the same degree. The Chinese have not promised to do anything in this area, but they seem to have a softer position.”
 
On Economic Leverage
            “If a country is to cooperate with us, we must expand our economic relations with that country. The government stands ready to cooperate in this area, utilize our country’s economic potential, and bring other countries into the picture, but in practice, we have not yet been successful… [Other countries] must see what they would gain politically and economically if they use their veto power…
            “Last year, the discussions about us going to the U.N. Security Council had a great impact on our economy, and these influences persist. When the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issues a strongly worded resolution against us, the value of the shares on our stock market goes down. Therefore, this issue affects the economy, public opinion, and, unfortunately, our security. We must cool down and lower the intensity of our propaganda. As you said, the public is very sensitive about this issue. Whatever we do, we must have the support of the public.”
 
On Animosity to Muslims
            “As for the suggestion that the Europeans have animosity toward Muslims, well, the governments of China and Russia are not friends with Muslims either. When it comes to this, they are all alike. As the Imam [Khomeini] said: One is worse than the other. There is no doubt that they do not want us to have advanced technology .It is very clear that they are against us. Nevertheless, under these circumstances, while the United States, Europe and Russia all pursue the same objective, there is competition between them, as well.”
 

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