Thank you very much for the opportunity to make this interview. Especially on the occasion of your National Day, it would be of great interest to know about the future steps of your country.
How are the relations between Austria and Islamic Republic of Iran?
Austrian-Iranian relationship is or has been a very long in the historical time. The first time in 1529 Austria sent his first Ambassador to Iran, at this time Austria was in a clash with the Ottoman Empire. And then this relationship goes further, the Embassy was opened in Tehran in 1878 and since that time the relations has always been fruitful and productive. As an example, the first modern university in Iran was opened in 1850 and invited professors from only two countries, Austria and Germany. This means that our relationship was very good even on the cultural, educational and scientific scene. Even now, Austria is among the few countries that has cultural attendance. We have benefited from Austrian expertise, technology and equipments since a long time ago. This is a very brief history of our relationship that goes back five centuries, maybe the longest of all European countries, even longer than the British or French ones. More interestingly, it should be noted that along this period, the relations have continuously been friendly. Iranians have a very good memory of Austria, the Austrian Empire. There is no kind of black stain. So, this is a very good base that helps both countries to improve their current and future diplomatic relations.
What will be the main focus of Iranian policy?
Our foreign policy is very clear. What is very significant for us is our independence and sovereignty. That is a crucial principle. This principle means; we cannot accept any type of coercion. We want to have control on our own resources. We do not accept any guardianship and we want to be an independent country.
As you know, Iran is mainly a cultural country. Iranian or Persian culture has been very influential all over the world, from China to the Mediterranean Sea. Iran is a big country with substantial potentials including natural and human resources. We almost do not need any natural resources from other countries. We have no eyes on any other country and we do not need to ask for other countries’ natural resources. We like to be ourselves. For example, If hypothetically, all our borders will be closed, we can survive, we have everything inside the country. But India cannot, China cannot. We have huge agricultural and industrial sectors. For example, we are producing 120 million tons of agricultural products every year. Our nuts production is more than the total nut product of Africa. And in six of them Iran is the first in the world.
Let’s have a look at the industrial figures. Now we are producing 60 million tons of cement, 17 million tons of steel, 12 million tons of petro chemicals, 1.300.000 cars a year and we are now exporting our cars to 13 different countries.
We have the second largest Gas reserves after Russia, and third of all oil reserves. Beside these natural resources, we have huge human resources. We have 4 millions of university students and when you combine the natural resources with human resources then you will see our great potential.
Of more importance is that we are stabilizing this region. Some newspapers and states accuse us of trying to destabilize the region. This is completely false. Iran is bringing stabilization to this region. Look at our neighbours. Iran is like an Anchor of stability and is esteeming the whole region.
We are also fighting against illicit drugs. We are fighting and you know that the destination of these drug trafficking is Europe “Because drugs go to rich countries, not to the poor.” Sometimes Iran is criticised as having big numbers of death-sentence. But, it should be noted that approximately 70 percent of prisoners in Iran are drug dealers. So far we have lost about 4000 of our military personnels and 11000 have been wounded in fighting with smugglers.
So, I can say that Iran is fighting for freedom, sovereignty and peace and is looking for cultural relationship as well as good trade and economic relations. These are the highlights of the politics in our agenda.
What can you say about the economic embargo and the relation to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) on controlling of nuclear energy production in your country?
After the Islamic Revolution we consequently protected and defended our rights and our independence. The United States was the dominant power in Iran during Shah’s autocratic regime. U.S exploited our resources and all American companies were there. After they started to conspire, they tried to root out the new Islamic and very popular system in Iran, but they failed.
Then they are looking for something to disturb us, some sort of sanctions. Sanctions are not new. They started after the Islamic Revolution. First American firms were instructed not to have any trade with Iran and then they encouraged their friends and allies. We had very good trade relations with European countries until the new nuclear issue.
We had signed an agreement with Siemens, a German company, to build the nuclear power plant in Bushehr. After the revolution, America put pressure on Siemens to withdraw. Then we sought another partner and while under pressure, we found Russia to finish this. This was the reason we wanted to develop our own and domestic technology. The United States wanted to prevent us from reaching this technology. They complained to the IAEA – Iran is one of the founders of IAEA – and then IAEA started asking Iran six groups of questions. We answered all of them. But suddenly the Americans said, they found a Laptop Computer. In that Laptop they said, we have found some documents showing that you are trying to make nuclear weapons. So the UN was under pressure not to give the permission for peaceful nuclear energy production.
Anyway, they got their resolutions and they accused Iran of threatening world peace. You know that, we have been threatened, we have been invaded and they have supported Iraq. However, in spite of its military power, Iran has not invaded her neighbours for centuries.
We believe that it is our right to have peaceful technology and everybody supports this right in Iran, including our supreme spiritual leader who has issued a religious decree (Fatwa) declaring nuclear weapons as absolutely forbidden. This means the last word for anybody. Even thinking about nuclear weapons is forbidden and I am sure they know this. The United States is just using this matter as an excuse to put sanctions on us and to settle its account on the political agenda, not for nuclear issue.
Now I refer to your question on embargo. Well, the European countries are under pressure. I know that the Undersecretary of Treasury Department of the United States came to Europe to talk to 40 banks in order to stop them cooperating with Iran. This is their way and as they have economic power, in fact, they impose their will and as I said the Europeans have relationships with the United States, but they have no other way than to cooperate.
We believe it is not fair that a big country that considers itself as the “Superpower” puts pressure on the world. They keep on saying that they are not putting pressure on the Iranian people and they are only pressing Iranian government. This is also not true for the following reasons. Let me draw your attention to two examples: First one is buying spare parts for civil aircrafts. We know that civil aircrafts are used for ordinary passengers. There are two direct flights between Tehran and Vienna a week. We have ordered spare parts for these flights but they do not provide us with them! Then, how can one say that they are not putting pressure on Iranian people?! Another recent example is disruption of banking services for Iranian students! Their parents want to send them money from Iran but they cannot!
These are two examples to show, that they are playing a dirty game. We understand that, but they cannot pretend they are respecting human rights and humanitarian law. Iran is a big country, we have been there, for several thousand years and we will be there for more several thousand years.
We are doing our business; Iran cannot be defeated by sanctions, because we have 15 neighbours. Our borders, several thousand kilometres, cannot be closed. They may slow down the business, but they cannot close the borders. And I personally would like to say that we wish to have very good relations with all nations.
What is your position in the fight against terrorism?
What is important is prosperity and peace for everybody, for all countries. Our religion says all of us came from the same origin. In fact, we believe all the human beings are brothers and sisters. This is the teaching of Islam. Islam is the religion of peace, not the religion of explosion, killing and suicide-murderers. Those who commit it may at least be called ignorants.
Fourteen Centuries ago, Imam Ali, the greatest Shia' leader, sent a Governor named Malek Ashtar Nakhaee from Iran to Egypt with a very powerful decree. A part of it is carved on a piece of marble stone in the Iranian presidential office. In that decree, Imam Ali says:
“You are going to Egypt. Be careful! There are two groups of people. Those who are muslims and those who are not believers. Those who are Muslims, they are your brothers and sisters, and those who are not Muslims, they are like you, human beings. You should respect both groups.”
This is the type of education we have. If you want God to accept you or you pray, first you should pray for everybody. Unfortunately, there are some ignorant people in some caves or mountains and they are told that if they kill some people they go straight to the heaven. But this is the wrong side of the subject. We strongly condemn terrorism in all its manifestations. A big country like Iran needs peace. How can they accuse us of supporting terrorism? How can we be “outlaws”, as they called us? They want to make us their servants but this is not possible. Iran - like Austria - is a very proud and independent nation.
Now I would be pleased if you can inform us about the relations of Iran to Hamas – the Palestinians need a more promising future in their country, living together with Israel. I think only your country is really ready to give the necessary support. How will your government manage this in the future?
Our policy on Palestine is very clear. We respect any decision Palestinians make for themselves. Gaza-Stripe right now is a roofless prison. It is hard to imagine that 1.5 million people are in custody in a piece of land. Even potatoes, if you want to send them, should be inspected. It is really miserable. In the 21st Century - the age of internet - everybody is watching what is going on there. This is not fair. The position of Iran is very clear. As I said we have not any interest in guardianship of Palestinians or exploiting them. Maybe the United States has some interest to come to the Persian Gulf, because it has great interests in controlling energy flow from Persian Gulf to the World. What type of material interest can we have? Nothing! Only, we do support spiritually and in a humanitarian way.
Back to Austria, In the beginning of the new year, it is a common practice to consider certain topics for the next 12 months. What are your ambitions and targets for 2011?
The duty of an ambassador, as I am, is to improve the political relations as well as the economic and cultural activities. Concerning our economic activities, we have to increase our bilateral trade by at least 15 percent, this is one target. Concerning political issues, of course, my goal and my wish is to see more exchange of delegations between Iran and Austria, both parliamentarians and politicians. Culturally, we want to increase the number of tourists and cultural events, exhibitions, lectures and dialogues.