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Iranian and American Ambassadors to IAEA Discuss Iranian Nuclear Compliance

Aired March 4, 2010 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, the diplomatic two-step over Iran's nuclear program. Crippling sanctions threatened by the U.S. are still not a sure bet.

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

The United States says that it's time for Iran to stop playing cat and mouse with nuclear inspectors, but trying to get tough sanctions against them is proving to be a tough sell, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton found out in Brazil yesterday, when President Lula said, quote, that "it's not wise to push Iran into a corner."

And more importantly, China is still holding out against sanctions. Iran insists its nuclear program is entirely peaceful, but for the first time, the IAEA has said that Iran might be trying to develop a nuclear warhead.


YUKIYA AMANO, DIRECTOR GENERAL OF THE IAEA (through translator): We cannot confirm that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities, because Iran has not provided the agency with the necessary cooperation.


AMANPOUR: So where do Iran and the international community go from here? The IAEA had a special meeting this week, and we now speak to the U.S. and Iranian ambassadors to the agency.

We begin with Iran's representative, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, joining us from Vienna.

Thank you for being on the program again, Mr. Soltanieh.

ALI ASGHAR SOLTANIEH, IRAN'S AMBASSADOR TO THE IAEA: Good afternoon. I'm at your disposal.

AMANPOUR: You know, Iran has angered both the U.S. and the E.U. now with its recent move to enrich uranium from the 3.5 percent to 20 percent before even the IAEA could install monitors. And it's now being said that you are provoking sanctions upon yourself.

Why are you going down this route? Why didn't you wait for the IAEA to install proper monitoring?

SOLTANIEH: I have already informed the board of governors about the fact that we announced the agency on 7th on February, and also on 8th of February, I received the letter from the head of the safeguard department that they have instructed the inspectors to be 9th of February there (ph). And under this basis, and the basis of this letter, we informed. Therefore, agency was informed, aware of this, and inspectors were present when we started.

AMANPOUR: Right, but they say that--

SOLTANIEH: I (inaudible) this allegation. And I have -- I have informed (ph) in my statement. And I presented the confidential letter that the agency gave to me, and I gave a copy to all ambassadors or representatives to prove our accession (ph).

AMANPOUR: All right. And that they say still that the monitoring equipment wasn't there. But I want to ask you this. Your proposal for simultaneous exchange on Iranian soil of the low-enriched uranium, it's a proposal that the international community has rejected, the simultaneous nature of it. But are you saying that it -- you may yourself withdraw that proposal?

SOLTANIEH: Well, I informed the board of governors in my statement today that this proposal still is on the table, and the issue was maximum concession from Iranian side that, in spite of the fact that we have to pay for the fuel, as we did within the case of Argentina -- and this is normal practice. But in order to show that we are, in fact, opening a window of opportunity for the others to prove their political and goodwill, that proposal still is on the table, of course indefinitely.

Any blow of the wind (ph), including sanctions resolution or language threat (ph), will remove this proposal from the table.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me show you then what President Medvedev of Russia said while he was with President Sarkozy of France in Paris just this week.


DMITRY MEDVEDEV, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): Russia is ready, along with our partners, as I've already said, to consider the question of adopting sanctions. These sanctions must be well-considered and intelligent. These sanctions mustn't harm the civilian population. These sanctions should outline the limits beyond which dialogue is impossible anymore. That is why we are talking about various initiatives.


AMANPOUR: So, Mr. Soltanieh, there you have the Russians, who don't particularly like sanctions, saying that they are going to consider them. And you're saying that dialogue is still possible. Is there any further that Iran will go to meet what the international community demands in terms of what they believe and what they have said is a confidence-building, trust-building measure to stagger your sending out of the enrichment, and they returning enriched uranium to you?


SOLTANIEH: I think that is better that you will be updated. Today, distinguished ambassador of Russia and ambassador of China clearly mentioned that they think that the only way is dialogue and negotiation, and this is the latest position that they have had. And I'm sure that you have noticed that over 100 countries of non-align movement (ph) not only for the first time they criticized the new director general report, that it is not factual and balanced, they also insisted that the only way is to put an end and to make a safeguard implementation in Iran, in fact, in the routine manner.

I have to say that this is unfortunate that the Americans are trying to, in fact, politicize the IAEA. And bearing in mind that with this allegation of the alleged study (ph), which former director general, in fact, openly said that there's no authenticity, they are keeping this issue on the agenda of the board of governors.

AMANPOUR: OK, well--

SOLTANIEH: I have said that all these documents have no authenticity, and they're lacking any classification. I have brought to show and your distinguished viewers a couple of dollar seals (ph) of the confidentiality. The ambassador, former ambassador of America, giving these documents against Iran during the Bush administration to forgot (ph) just the seal (ph) of the secret or top-secret in order to make it convincing.

That for all the documents (ph) which finally given (ph) to Iran, to the IAEA against Iran are forged and fabricated, and they were trying to keep (ph) this matter in agenda (ph). This is very unfortunate. They have to stop this matter.

Therefore, we are not playing the mouse and game. This is Americans that are putting everything in vicious cycle (ph).

AMANPOUR: Mr. Soltanieh, you say that, that it's all political, but even Mr. ElBaradei, who, as you know, tried so hard to bring some kind of diplomatic resolution to this crisis and, along with yourself and others, did bring this proposal for the Tehran research reactor in October, at which he developed the proposal that you -- you know, exchange LEU for enriched -- for enriched uranium.

So what I want to ask you is this. You took this agreement back to Iran. And at the time, it appeared that you thought it was a decent agreement. It appeared that President Ahmadinejad thought it was a good agreement. And then all of a sudden, it went nowhere.

Why were you not able to sell that agreement to the leadership?

SOLTANIEH: Well, I have to say that, unfortunately, the information have been distorted realities. The reality was that, during the negotiation in Vienna, first of all, there was nothing as, quote, unquote, "agency proposal." Whatever was there discussed, it was American, Russian and French proposal in a non-paper (ph) that director general privately had given to us and then, in the meeting, which was saying that 1,200 kilogram of uranium from Iran should go for further enrichment to Russia and then go to France.

Then, at the same time, in the same meeting, I proposed on behalf of my country, after negotiation, in order to show our -- in fact (inaudible) flexibility that we are ready for simultaneous exchange of the material produced in Iran and the fuel in Iran. That was our very constructive proposal.

And then, director general requested all delegations, including Iran, U.S., Russia and France, to go back to their capitals and come back.


SOLTANIEH: Unfortunately, we were taken by surprise when I come back to -- from Tehran and announce that I'm ready for the second round of negotiation, the other countries--


SOLTANIEH: -- in fact, misled the public. They said we are agreeing to the Diji proposal (ph). That was not Diji proposal (ph). That was the wrong proposal (ph).

AMANPOUR: All right. Well, let's--

SOLTANIEH: Therefore, why I'm saying that we are still ready, we are still ready to have this exchange of material, although we don't see any justification, but we are going to show our utmost flexibility (ph) in order to have this fuel for this humanitarian purpose.

AMANPOUR: Well, you mentioned humanitarian. And as you know, the U.S. ambassador in the talks recently has said and brought up the case of your some 850,000 Iranian cancer patients. Why, he asked, are you gambling with their health when there is a good, cost-effective deal that will help you get the very material you need for that medical research reactor in Tehran?

SOLTANIEH: I think that this is also another issue that the public are not aware of the fact that there is the crisis of molybdenum (ph), as I has informed (ph). Many countries cannot receive the radioisotopes because of the shortage, and one of the reactors, including the Canadian, has been shut down. Therefore, the countries do not have the access as they want it.


Besides, I am the one that I was in charge in Tehran research reactor to receive the radioisotopes from abroad from European countries when we were not able to produce as we required. And in many cases, Europeans were not cooperating and (inaudible) cancer patients in Tehran were waiting. Unfortunately, they were not able to receive it on time.

And because of the short half life of radioisotopes and Iran being a vast country -- many times, many people of the whole -- whole Iran were not able to receive it. Therefore, the reality is that radioisotope will not be able -- therefore, we don't want the U.S. ambassador to feel sympathy for Iranian patients. We are taking care of them in the most responsible manner, of course.

AMANPOUR: Fine. Now that there's this move towards sanctions, a fourth round of sanctions, Russia, as we saw, is open to it. China, you're correct, is saying that there needs to be more room for dialogue and the door should remain open, says that Iran -- and he called on Iran to strengthen cooperation with the IAEA to remove doubts and your nuclear intentions.

And you've just heard Director General Amano say that they cannot confirm that all nuclear material is for peaceful activities, because you haven't provided the agency with the necessary cooperation. So one more time: If China says that the door should be open and you should provide more cooperation, what more can you and will you do?

SOLTANIEH: In fact, during this meeting, it was clearly, in fact, mentioned that we are and we will continue our cooperation with the IAEA, but within the framework of our legal obligation (inaudible) safeguard.

Any demand beyond it, including the issues on the military conventional activities, including the missiles or so because of following the Americans' so-called laptop allegation, it is impossible, because it is beyond the statutory mandate of the IAEA.

Therefore, Mr. Amano should know that we are not going to implement the demands or resolutions of United Nations Security Council because we have clearly mentioned those demands are illegal. And I approved in many meetings of the board of governors, and nobody has been able to challenge me, because there is no legal basis for them.

How come that after years they have not come to conclusion that they should understand their demand on suspension of enrichment is impossible? I know that the Americans and Europeans have come to conclusion that they've made mistakes sending this matter to New York, and they're looking for a face-saving. That is why we opened the window for face-saving, but they'd better reconsider this mistake, stop involvement of the United Nations Security Council, come to the negotiating table on equal footing without precondition, and we are ready, of course, to remove any ambiguity, but we think the framework of the IAEA (ph).

AMANPOUR: Mr. Soltanieh, thank you for joining us.

And we will put, obviously, some of these important questions next to the United States ambassador to the IAEA, because the U.S. is having trouble lining up what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would be crippling new sanctions against Iran. That's next.




EHUD BARAK, DEFENSE MINISTER, ISRAEL: I think that the time is still a time for sanctions, for diplomacy and sanctions. Sanctions should be effective. It is not about our definition, whether targeted or crippling or paralyzing or deadly. It should be effective and bring them to a point where they decide not to continue with their nuclear effort. I believe and hope that this will be the case.


AMANPOUR: So that was Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak speaking to me in an exclusive interview a few days ago, putting his weight now behind sanctions and also pushing back, at least in that interview, against the constantly floated notion of military action against Iran.

Joining us now, the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, Glyn Davies, joining us from Vienna.

Mr. Davies, thank you very much for joining us.


AMANPOUR: You heard Ehud Barak, but you've also heard your own secretary of state. It's your own policy that there should be crippling sanctions against Iran. That word was used. You're not having a huge amount of luck with that right now, because the Chinese for one are holding out. How do you react to that?

DAVIES: Yeah, well, I would disagree. I mean, the -- whenever you get into a discussion of sanctions, which is a big move for the international community to take, there will always be voices raised questioning whether or not this is the time to do it. You know, have exhausted all of the negotiating that's possible?

So a lot of these questions are normal. They happen quite often when you get into a sanctions discussion. But what we're doing in Vienna is we're trying to bring home to people the reality of what is happening in the Iranian nuclear program.

What's happening is that Iran is headed in the direction of further provocation, further enrichment. It's becoming quite clear that they're preserving at least the option of developing a nuclear program. And we want all nations of the world to take note of this and to draw the right conclusion.

AMANPOUR: Well, again, I have to put you to this question, Ambassador Davies, because let's just take the Chinese, who today at the United Nations, again, sort of pulled back against the idea of sanctions and said the door should still be open to negotiation.

The Chinese foreign ministry has said we called for a resolution of the Iran nuclear issue through diplomatic means, and we believe there's still room for diplomatic efforts and for the parties concerned to intensify those efforts.

So where does that leave you, given that China does have a veto, and it's not just China? It's Brazil. It's Turkey. It's Lebanon, other members of the Security Council this -- this session.

DAVIES: Yes. And every single one of those countries, Christiane, was in the room today and yesterday and the day before in Vienna at the IAEA listening to the mounting evidence being provided by the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards inspectors and the director general and drawing, we hope, the conclusion that there really is at this stage, after a year, more than a year of trying to reach out to Iran, extend a hand to them, especially on this Tehran research reactor deal, there really is only one way to go right now, only one way to focus Iran on the need to make different decisions, and that is by putting pressure on them.

AMANPOUR: I want to put up what Hillary Clinton, secretary of state, said recently, just last month, at the end of last month, about the relationship with Iran.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have pursued a dual-track approach to Iran that has exposed for the world to see its refusal to live up to its responsibility, and it has helped us achieve a new unity with our international partners.

Iran has left the international community little choice but to impose greater costs for its provocative steps.


AMANPOUR: So, again, Ambassador Davies, new unity, says the secretary of state. But, again, I have to press you on the disunity, because even while the secretary of state was in Brazil, her host, the president of Brazil, publicly rebuffed the notion of sanctions against Iran, saying that it was not wise to push Iran against a wall. That was his quote.

So how do you go from here? How do you actually get international opinion on your side in the Security Council?

DAVIES: Yeah. Well, you know, of course, I work in Vienna, not on the Security Council, so that's for me not job one at the moment. For me, what's important is working in the context of Vienna, the IAEA, to ensure that the -- all of the 35 members of the board of governors, the 150 nations that belong to the IAEA, understand fully the import of eight years now of Iran's failure to comply with their obligations under the Non- Proliferation Treaty, under their safeguards agreement with the IAEA.


And, quite frankly, there has been a progression in Vienna in terms of the unanimity that's been shown. And the best example of that was last November at the board of governors, when we had a resolution pass overwhelmingly. Of the 35 nations, only three voted against it. And that had never before happened.

AMANPOUR: Can I ask you a technical question, to respond to what the Iranian ambassador, Mr. Soltanieh, just said just before -- just before we turned to you, saying that their attempts to buy isotopes and the other kind of material that's needed for this reactor generally are unsuccessful because they don't last. I mean, it's a load of technical detail that I don't understand, but many, many times their reasoning is that we make contracts with the international community to buy X, Y or Z, and they don't come through?

DAVIES: Yeah, I don't think that's true. There are 180 hospitals in Iran that use medical isotopes. We've already talked about the 850,000 cancer patients. There's an international market for medical isotopes. There are ways for Iran to purchase them if they need to purchase them, once this research reactor's fuel runs out. That's a far safer way to proceed than for Iran, which has never before manufactured fuel for any sort of a nuclear reactor, to try to do it on its own on a rush basis.

That's why the deal that Mohamed ElBaradei put together last October was really so picture perfect for Iran. It would have used their own material that they've said they're producing for peaceful purposes to be enriched, returned to them as fuel for their reactor, and would have continued the supply of medical isotopes.

This is one of the baffling things about -- about Iran's failure to take up this deal. And we can only assume they're enriching the material for other purposes.

AMANPOUR: What do you make of what the Israeli prime -- sorry, defense minister told me just over the weekend, seeming to push the idea of a military option away and really concentrate on the -- on the diplomatic offensive, if you like?

Also, it's clear that Israel is trying to pressure China to come to the table on sanctions. You say the diplomatic work of the U.N. is not really your purview, but you clearly must be trying to talk to Chinese, to Brazilians, to the other diplomats in Vienna.


AMANPOUR: So how do you think this is going to work out? And do you think the military option has been pushed away for the moment?

DAVIES: Yeah, look, nobody wants to -- to do anything but try to resolve this peacefully. I think that's the area of agreement that -- agreement that's the most important for us to stress, with Brazil, with Turkey, with China, with Russia. Nobody wants to see any solution other than a peaceful solution.

That, frankly, is what our push right now for sanctions is all about, because we've tried for over a year to focus Iran through engagement. They refuse to take steps that are even in their own interest, if they're to be believed. So right now, what option do we have, except to pursue sanctions in the U.N. context and work with our partners to try to bring this to a reality?

AMANPOUR: Ambassador Davies, thank you so much for joining us from Vienna.

DAVIES: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And another story we're following, the latest on the crackdown inside Iran. Two more reformist publications have been closed, both of which were linked to the opposition green movement. And you can see that story on our Web site at

And next, our "Post-Script," and the latest salvo in another issue, that is, Greece economic crisis. You won't believe what some Germans are saying should be sold now to save the Greek economy.



AMANPOUR: And now our "Post-Script." And an update on another story that's resonating around the world.

Greece yesterday announced massive new spending cuts and tax increases to end its debt crisis. As you might expect, union members are furious, and today, they blocked the entrance to the finance ministry in Athens. Many Germans are unhappy, as well, because they may have to bail out Greece. And now some leading German politicians want Greece to take extreme action, including selling some of those famous Greek islands to the highest bidder.

One top German tabloid declared, "We give you cash, you give us Corfu." So far, there's no word on whether this controversial idea will be on the agenda tomorrow, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou.

And a quick note on our exclusive interview on another topic this week, with the son of Hamas founder who was an Israeli spy. It has become a hot topic around the globe, and you can watch my entire conversation with Mosab Hassan Yousef on our podcast at

And that's it for now. Join us again tomorrow. Goodbye from all of us here in New York.