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An Interview with Iran's Nuclear Envoy and Iraq's Vice President

Aired February 8, 2010 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, Iran challenging the world again, and Iraq trying to overcome a sectarian standoff.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to the program.

Iraqis are working to break a deadlock over its election next month. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says that he hopes a dispute over the banning of more than 500 Sunni candidates will be resolved before campaigning starts on Friday.

But there are still tensions over the future of the Sons of Iraq who are former Sunni insurgents who sided with America against Al Qaida. We have an exclusive interview with Iraq's Sunni vice president.


TARIQ AL-HASHIMI, IRAQI VICE PRESIDENT: I'm -- I'm to some extent quite concerned about the security future unless we take drastic action and put some sort of benchmarks to improve the style and qualifications of our armed forces and security.


AMANPOUR: And Iran today raised the stake in its nuclear stance, announcing that it will begin enriching uranium to the 20 percent mark. The U.S. and French defense ministers were meeting in Paris.


HERVE MORIN, FRENCH DEFENSE MINISTER: It will be necessary, unfortunately, to engage in international dialogue which will lead to new sanctions if Iran does not seize these programs for which for the certainty, for which we have the conviction of programs with military ends.


AMANPOUR: So let's go straight to Vienna now, where I'm joined by Iran's top nuclear envoy to the International Atomic Agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh.

Mr. Ambassador, thank you for joining us.


AMANPOUR: Tell me, the IAEA is saying that you, Iran, have informed them now that you want to enrich it. Tell us exactly how much further you want to enrich the uranium.

SOLTANIEH: Well, based on the instruction received today about 12 o'clock Vienna time, officially I sent a letter to the agency informing that we are going to start enrichment activities of uranium to produce the fuel for Tehran Research Reactor up to 20 percent -- I repeat, up to 20 percent.

And in the same letter, I also asked and invited the inspectors to be present and supervise these activity. And in the evening, of course, I received acknowledgement of my letter and also the fact that, as tomorrow, the inspectors which are in Iran will be monitoring this whole activities, in fact, in Iran.


SOLTANIEH: We had to do it because we couldn't wait. We are waiting nine months, in fact, since I wrote a letter to ElBaradei, former director- general, on 2nd of June that we need agency to, in fact (inaudible) to do it its intermediary role...


SOLTANIEH: ... its statutory role to have the fuel for us for this reactor.

AMANPOUR: All right. Let me ask you: Did you say that it's going to start -- the increased enrichment is going to start tomorrow? Is that what you said?

SOLTANIEH: As tomorrow, the steps will start, in fact, and under the full scope, safeguard, and the supervision of the agency inspectors.

AMANPOUR: And how much are you going to enrich? How much of the stockpile is going to be enriched?

SOLTANIEH: We are going to produce the fuel needed for Tehran Research Reactor, which is roughly about 111 -- 116 or 120 kilogram, which is about the same amount that over 20 years ago we got from Argentina. In fact, by coincidence, the same one that came to Vienna over 20 years ago, and requested the agency director-general, Hans Blix, at that time, and we requested through him to the potential suppliers, and we had a contract. We just paid it, and we got the fuel in the contract.


SOLTANIEH: But unfortunately, this time, rather than giving the fuel, they put conditions that they want material, but we even (inaudible) compromise, and they agreed for exchange -- simultaneous exchange (ph) of the material, but this proposal have not been responded.

Nine months we are waiting for the response from other sites, potential suppliers, until today.

AMANPOUR: You obviously understand why the -- the -- the West and the U.N. sort of offered you the "ship it out, and we'll ship it back to you" proposal, because they're concerned about what's going to happen to the enriched uranium.


SOLTANIEH: With the same reason, of course, that we listened to them during the three days of negotiation, 19th through 21st of October, that I had an honor to be the chief of negotiator, we tried to incorporate, in fact, their expectation, though there was not justified, because they should have, like in other countries, just get the money and give the fuel.

But we tried to show utmost flexibility and concession. We accepted, in fact, to give equivalent required material (ph) to them. The only thing is about the timing and modality. We just said, just prepare the fuel. We'll give the material simultaneous exchange, because we have the past confidence. That is it.


SOLTANIEH: I remind you, please, that we had for the same reactor -- we had a contract with the United States, because I was in atomic energy organization before revolution. The contract was made. Over $2 million were paid to U.S. When revolution occurred, neither they give us the money, nor the fuel. Therefore, we have to have the guarantee and assurance that we will receive the fuel. That is why we given modality (ph) -- while incorporating their expectation, but at least we would have some assurance that, at the end of the day, we will receive the fuel.

AMANPOUR: Well, Mr. Soltanieh...

SOLTANIEH: That was maximum concession that we made.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Soltanieh, as you know, the West has said that they would guarantee it to you, but you don't like the time difference between shipping out the LEU and getting back the enriched fuel. But the question I have now, which a lot of people are asking is, let's say you enrich up to 20 percent. Then what? I mean, how do you make the plates necessary for the -- for the reactor? You can't do that in Iran, right?

SOLTANIEH: Well, those who ask or pose this question ambiguities, with due respect for you, do not know how intelligent Iranian are. We have, in fact, infrastructure and the technology know-how. We have already been able to manufacture the, in fact, fuel rods.

As you noticed last year (ph), it was inaugurated in Isfahan. Therefore, we can make the fuel. We can increase to 20 percent (inaudible) fuel fabrication. We can do it. But for nine months, we have hesitated to do so because we wanted to give the opportunity for the others. We think the framework of IAEA to have some sort of international cooperation to open a new chapter of cooperation, rather than confrontation.


SOLTANIEH: Now, since we are disappointed, we have to choose another option, of course.

AMANPOUR: And so -- so you're saying you can make the plates, you can fabricate the fuel rods into plate. So you would not send out the fuel rods to have them manufactured into the plates, let's say, to -- to France, as was originally proposed?

SOLTANIEH: No, we will -- we will be able to do it our own. Of course, it is the first experience, time-consuming, is hard time, but we have proved that we will be able to do it. And this is, in fact, the confidence that Iranian scientists have got. We said it two, three years ago. I said it in my interviews, that we will be able to be master (ph) of enrichment technology, and now the world is a witness that we are.

The only thing is the -- it's a pity that we'll -- for some time we've been waiting for them to give a response to this positive inside gesture.

One important point, Ms. Amanpour, I have to mention, that we made another step in order to find a compromise. We accepted that -- put everything under the custody of IAEA. It means that we were ready.

I mentioned, in fact, during my first meeting with Mr. Amano (ph) on 5th of January, when he took office, I informed him officially -- of course, we didn't publicize in media -- officially informed and informed through him the Americans, the Russians, and also French partners that we are ready to separate the equivalent retired material put under the IAEA (inaudible) custody in Iran, and whenever the fuel is ready, we can make some (inaudible) exchange.

Therefore, we were ready to put it merely for this purpose and not use it for any other purpose. That was also another concession we made.

AMANPOUR: All right. Dr. Soltanieh, thank you so much for joining us from Vienna, and we'll obviously be keeping an eye on this very important story. Thank you for joining us.

SOLTANIEH: My pleasure. My pleasure.

AMANPOUR: And in a moment, our exclusive interview with Iraq's Sunni vice president on the political crisis that is engulfing that country as U.S. troops prepare to leave.



AMANPOUR: And now to Iraq, where sectarian tensions have been rising over whether 500 Sunnis can be candidates in next month's election. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki now indicates that the dispute could be resolved this week, but there's been a recent upsurge in violence there in Iraq. Last week, a series of bomb attacks targeting Shia pilgrims killed dozens of them, and ethnic divisions are flaring up, as CNN's Diana Magnay reports from Baghdad.


DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sheikh Aiad Algbory's morning has not begun well. He's learnt that a fellow awakening council leader in his district of Radwaniyah (ph) in western Baghdad was detained by the Iraqi army overnight. He calls an urgent meeting of local tribal leaders.

The awakening councils, or Sons of Iraq, are former Sunni insurgents who, from the end of 2006, began to switch sides in return for pay, joining forces with the U.S. military to fight Al Qaida. Sheikh Aiad says they are now being persecuted for alleged past crimes by some within the Shiite-led government. The army detaining the council leader is only the latest example.

SHEIKH AIAD ALGBORY, SONS OF IRAQ LEADER: Some Iraqi politicians compared awakenings to security companies, like Blackwater, an American initiative imposed on the government.

MAGNAY: The government denies that it is persecuting awakening members or buying their loyalty. It says it's making progress finding new jobs for the roughly 90,000 Sons of Iraq now on its payroll. Some 18 percent have been integrated into the security forces. The rest are being found other kinds of jobs.

"The measures and steps we have taken," says Muhammad al-Sadi (ph), "in running this portfolio with this big number of Sons of Iraq in such a record time shows the Iraqi government's commitment to fulfilling its pledges to this important project."

But many of these former militiamen are frustrated, saying that they were given more respect when they were on the U.S. payroll, and that the Iraqi government doesn't realize how important they still are to the country's security.

The Sons of Iraq used to control the security of whole neighborhoods, manning checkpoints like this one. Now they're supposedly being transitioned into other jobs. But Sheikh Aiad says that leaves a security vacuum which is easy to exploit.

He believes massive car bomb attacks like those in Baghdad last year might have been prevented if the Sons of Iraq still controlled checkpoints. He's on his way to present medals to U.S. generals to thank them for their help, but he fears what may happen once they're gone.

Sheikh Aiad has escaped three assassination attempts in just three months. He thinks it's Al Qaida seeking revenge. They've killed more than 200 awakening leaders in two years.

The U.S. has unveiled memorials to them.

ALGBORY (through translator): If U.S. forces withdraw without leaving stability and solid guarantees of immunity for the awakening leaders, I cannot guarantee that this will go down peacefully.

MAGNAY: And these former insurgents are used to using force if things don't go their way.


Diana Magnay, CNN, Baghdad.


AMANPOUR: Joining me now is Iraq's Sunni vice president, Tariq al- Hashimi (ph).

Mr. al-Hashimi, you heard that report. Do you think that there is a risk as the United States continues to pull back and prepares to leave?

AL-HASHIMI: Well, no, I -- on the contrary, in fact, I think United States should adhere and then abide the timetable that has been laid and then the agreement is quite suitable and could pave the way for convenient and peaceful withdraw of American troops.

All what we need from now until December 2011, in fact, is to help Iraqi armed forces and security to be upgraded to fill the security vacuum when the American troops are pulled out eventually, December 2011. I don't think for the interest of both countries that the American troops should maintain their existence on Iraqi territories for beyond -- beyond December '11.

No, this is (inaudible) opportunity, and this is one of the major -- main -- main messages that I brought all the way from Baghdad to Washington. I am very much still -- I'm not saying scared, but I am -- I am to some extent quite concerned about -- about the security future, unless we take drastic action and put some sort of benchmarks to improve our -- our armed forces and security.

Their continuous car bomb raids (ph) started last August, in fact, to Baghdad. We discovered major loopholes in the structure of security and armed forces. I am very much afraid that if we are not taking care about this subject, we might pay a double cost than if we pay it now.

AMANPOUR: Vice President Biden has been in Iraq recently to talk about the election, to talk about presumably many of these security issues, as well. You've just been talking to him again here in Washington and also to President Obama. What are they saying about these issues?

AL-HASHIMI: Well, they acknowledge about these issues. In fact, not only the talk with President Obama and Vice President Biden, I also addressed the senator in charge about armed forces, and then the security and defense. I spent hours, in fact, talking to the chairman of committees. They got the message, and hopefully they will move very quickly to do what are needed action (ph).

AMANPOUR: All right. Well, you know, of course, everybody looks and is concerned that Iraq might fall back into the violence of -- of -- of 2005, 2006. I want to play you a little bit of something a former Iraqi prime minister said, Ayad Allawi (ph), back in 2005.


AYAD ALLAWI, FORMER INTERIM IRAQI PRIME MINISTER: The path of sectarian is going to break the country, and it will spill over beyond -- beyond the region. The only way to preserve Iraq is to have a secular national program where all Iraqis will have Kurds or Arabs, Turkmen, Sunnis, Shiites, Christians, would unite together in one Iraq.


AMANPOUR: So do you think the future of a one Iraq is guaranteed today?

AL-HASHIMI: On one side, I -- I feel very much happy, in fact, because of the moral and the feelings of the people being improved. You can talk in the turn of sectarian, as everybody can in 2004 and '05. It's becoming a shame for the average citizen and for the politician to talk in sectarian -- Sunni, Shia, Kurdish, and -- and Arabs.

Everybody now -- or, say, the majority of our people, in fact, talking in nationalistic language, which is -- which is very good.


AL-HASHIMI: And if you -- if you just now check, check the election platform on political -- political agenda, you will see -- you'll see no reference whatsoever, in fact, for sectarian or ethnic or -- or something like that, everybody talking in nationalistic tone, which is good.

AMANPOUR: I was going to ask you precisely that, because many Sunnis took Prime Minister Maliki to be a religious leader. But do you think, as I think you're saying, that his leadership has shown that he's much more of an Iraqi nationalist than a religious Shiite?

AL-HASHIMI: Well, as you're fully aware, my friend, that Al-Maliki is a general secretary of a Dawa ideologist Islamic party. He's still there. If he -- if he -- if he actually willing to be a purely nationalist, he should do like what I have done.


I've been quit being -- from being general secretary for Iraqistan Party (ph), and now I just form a purely national, cross-sectarian political entity. If he says that he's no longer sectarian or Islamic ideologist, he could -- he could -- he could move out from Dawa Party and to follow suit.

AMANPOUR: OK. Well, what about the effect of the ban on the candidates, then lifting the ban on the candidates, the threats of boycott of the elections? Even though the ban has been lifted, do you feel damage has been done to this process?

AL-HASHIMI: Well, definitely, in fact. After tremendous effort that has been -- that has been invested, in fact, to mobilize the people that we would like, in fact, to see -- to see this election, historical one, and more inclusive, and the poll indicated that 65 percent to 70 percent of the Iraqi eligible for election, they are prepared, in fact, to participate, might be somebody, in fact, annoyed (ph) for this inclusiveness and try to make things rather difficult and to demoralize the -- the -- the desire of -- and the willing of those people who've been boycotting the election 2005.

And this will happen definitely if further stumbling blocks, in fact, is going to be laid in front of us until the election day. Definitely this is going to affect the morale of the people, their readiness, in fact, to participate. This is -- we are trying, in fact, to -- to -- to rectify the situation and to encourage our people to be more participant and to feel in democracy and try to exercise it.

AMANPOUR: So why do you think this is going on then? Why suddenly this demand to ban candidates? Why is this happening?

AL-HASHIMI: Well, this is the -- the -- this is the story. Everybody, in fact, booked (ph) a major question mark. The law of accountability and justice, in fact, is existing since two years back. Nobody knows, in fact, why the government kept signing (ph). I don't know what happened, in fact, to -- for the government to nominate a group of staff (ph), and they -- they gave them the false legality to apply the law, which they -- they have any sort of legal power.

So the political dimension of this -- this crisis is quite clear, in fact, for everybody. So the verdict which has been taken by the appeal court the day before today was correct to defer this subject.

AMANPOUR: Yeah, because we've heard a lot about this idea of de- Baathification and that this commission was trying to get a whole load of people banned, saying that there needs to be continued de-Baathification in Iraq.

AL-HASHIMI: Well, this a problem, in fact. The law of de- Baathification is already -- already over. And another law, which they called accountability and justice, is now exists.

But before applying this law, the commission should reform -- should be -- should be voted by the parliament, should be endorsed by the presidency council, which has not happened so far, so nobody else -- nobody else is eligible to apply the law, and we need some time, in fact, to get some -- some sort of consensus agreement (ph) between the political elites to -- to nominate who should be, get what (ph), and what qualification we could have?

Then the president (inaudible) to the parliament for voting, and there is -- and as you're fully aware, the parliament now in recess -- in recess. So I don't know how we are going to -- to do that. It's a real timing bomb which creates this problem unnecessarily.

AMANPOUR: Well, you just mentioned the word "time bomb," and what I would like to know is why you think there's been this immense spike in violence in Iraq. After, really, you know, a dramatic lowering of the violence, all of a sudden, there's been so much violence. We keep seeing a bomb a day, just about, killing a lot of people.

AL-HASHIMI: Yeah, that's right. There is no -- unfortunately, what happened just few -- few weeks ago, because of this, the manipulating of political crisis, definitely will -- will -- will affect the -- the -- the security. And I am really afraid, in fact, after this tremendous achievement and success in -- in security that we are going to see the hardship circumstances (ph) as we've seen in 2006 and '07 and partially '08.

AMANPOUR: So who would you say is responsible right now? Is it insurgents, Sunni insurgents? Is it Al Qaida again in Iraq? Who is it? And why is it?

AL-HASHIMI: It's insurgents. They are already -- they're already embedded in the awakening group, and they just stop their activities. Al Qaida is still very much active. And as you're fully aware, in fact, interference of neighboring countries, making things rather difficult to Iraqis, as well as to the Americans inside Iraq.


AMANPOUR: Mr. al-Hashimi, thank you so much for joining us.

AL-HASHIMI: You are most welcome. Thank you very much.


AMANPOUR: So with all eyes on the campaign season as it opens and on a peaceful election most of the world is hoping for, for Iraq, let's look at an extraordinary indication of what Iraqi women are doing in the military there, some of the most dangerous jobs on the front lines. Check out our Web site,

And next, you may have heard of the film "Back to the Future." Today, that could describe the latest political twists in the Ukraine. Find out when we come back.



AMANPOUR: And now our "Post-Script." An opposition leader in Ukraine who was ousted in a popular uprising five years ago tonight seems certain to become the country's next president. The current president, Viktor Yushchenko, was swept to power in the Orange Revolution back in 2004. But he didn't even make this year's run-off election because of voters' anger over the bad economy.

Former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych won almost 50 percent of the vote in Sunday's election, and it's a reversal of years of history that have seen pro-Western governments elected in much of Eastern Europe since the fall of the Soviet Union. Yanukovych has strong links with Russia and is likely to steer the country towards a more pro-Moscow stance.

And that's it for now. We'll be back tomorrow with a look at Nigeria and what an absent president and an unresolved insurgency mean for the rest of the world. For all of us here, goodbye from New York.