Manouchehr Mottaki is the Foreign Minister of Iran. In this interview with Nermeen Shaikh, he argues that the US must propose a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq, while maintaining that an immediate withdrawal might "create problems". Foreign Minister Mottaki rules out the possibility of any kind of military confrontation between Iran and the US, saying the latter cannot afford to undertake another conflict in the region.
Foreign Minister Mottaki has previously served as Iran's ambassador to Turkey and Japan, and as Deputy Foreign Minister. He was appointed Foreign Minister by President Ahmadinejad in 2005.
Foreign Minister Mottaki delivered a speech at the Asia Society on Iran's Foreign Policy on September 28th. This interview was conducted at the UN on October 2nd.
In his report to Congress, General David Petraeus, commander of the multinational forces in Iraq, alleged that Iran was fighting a "proxy war against the Iraqi state and coalition forces in Iraq." How do you respond to that?
The Bush Administration is looking for a new budget to continue their mission in Iraq, and that's why this kind of allegation is perhaps necessary for them. This is why they raise this issue in the Congress to brief the relevant officials and this is one of the reasons for the adoption of the budget. The second reason is to cover the defeats and failures of their policies in Iraq. These are the two main reasons for the allegations in the commander's report. According to our policy, what they need in Iraq is peace, not war; what we need in Iraq is stability, not instability; and a secure Iraq, not an insecure Iraq.
Does Iran believe that the US should immediately withdraw all its forces from Iraq?
What I said in my statement in Sharm-el-Sheikh is it is necessary that the US propose its plan of withdrawal. A timetable is part of that plan. If they consider immediate withdrawal from Iraq, this may create problems, but at least they can have a timetable for their withdrawal. Why do we insist on withdrawal in general? Because occupation and terrorist activities, each part points to the other as a cause of their activities, they go hand in hand: the foreign forces say terrorist activities are the cause of their continued presence in Iraq, and the terrorist groups say they are active in Iraq because of the occupation of the country by foreign forces.
There are some American commentators who have spoken about dividing Iraq along sectarian lines (Sunni, Shi'a, Kurd). How would Iran respond to such proposals?
That is another strategic mistake by the Americans. It is not their business. It is the responsibility of the Iraqi people and the Iraqi nation to decide their destiny, their life, and the future of their country. In Iraq, we can see condemnation by the people of the foreign forces. Countries in the region are also against this presence, that's why nobody accepts such offers or such imposed proposals for the Iraqi people. And such proposals will not be realized.
Do you think once the American troops withdraw - assuming that there will be a plan for withdrawal - that the sectarian conflict in Iraq will diminish?
We do believe that one of the reasons for the continuing instability in Iraq is the lack of authority vested in the Iraqi government. We do believe that they should have the responsibility to manage their country, particularly in the field of security affairs. In such circumstances we do believe that the Iraqi government knows better than the Americans how to behave with Iraqis in their country and we are sure that the situation will calm down if full authority is given to the Iraqi government.
There was an article in this week's issue of the New Yorker by American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh which argues that there has been a shift in the American position vis-à-vis an attack on Iran: whereas previously the talk was of an attack that would target Iran's nuclear and military installations, now the emphasis is on "surgical" strikes against Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities. Were you aware of this, and could you comment?
From the very beginning of this issue, two options were on the table: an option based on cooperation, and an option based on confrontation. We always prefer the option based on cooperation. Time and again, we would hear from some part of the ruling party in the United States that they are considering the other option, that is confrontation, an attack or military strike on Iran. Maybe this has always been in their minds, and is even now, but the problem is they don't know what will happen. And from the other side, they cannot change the public opinion; they cannot impose on the taxpayers in the United States another conflict and that's why we do not see any possibility for a new conflict by the Americans in our region. The Bush administration is somehow based on psychological warfare. They would like to create, once again, an atmosphere of fear in the minds of the American people. This may create some chance for them for the next year's election. We do not think there is any possibility for a new attack in the region.
You are hopeful then that there will be peaceful resolution to this?
There is no other way. We do not see any other way for these issues to be resolved.
What do you think the consequences would be if the US did attack Iran? For Iran and for the region?
They know what will be the reaction. We have informed them.
You don't want to specify here?
In August, as you know, the Bush administration called for Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps to be a designated a foreign terrorist organization, making it the first national military branch to be so named. Why has the Revolutionary Guard been singled out?
The general policy of some groups in the United States, from the very beginning, was regime change in Iran. Now after 28 years, they are in doubt that they will not complete such a mission against our nation. We have some organizations, like the Revolutionary Guards, and some others, which were created by the revolution. Our army is divided into two different parts: the army which was there from before the revolution, and the new army we have established after the revolution. Just to complete their allegations against Iran, as in your first question -- that Iran interferes in Iraq's internal affairs -- they would like to say that the new military body of Iran which is the Revolutionary Guard is responsibile for interfering in Iraq, which is not true.
Interview conducted by Nermeen Shaikh