Question: In several interviews you gave in the last year, you emphasized that Iran is on the brink of a catastrophe and that the Iranian people may find themselves in a disastrous situation. What exactly did you mean?
Moshe Katzav: The internal conditions in Iran are worsening in all aspects. Poverty and unemployment are becoming more severe, despite the fact that Iran has turned into a developed and industrialized country. There are severe limitations on civil rights, limitations from which citizens of all layers of the society suffer.
In the international arena, Iran is turning into an isolated country, and the international community is becoming more hostile toward it. The international community is unwilling to accept the policies of the Iranian regime, which gives financial support to terrorist organizations all over the world, denies the Holocaust, and calls for the wiping the state of Israel from the map, while developing long-range missiles and trying to obtain nuclear weapon. These aggressive and irresponsible steps endanger the peace and stability of the world, and the international community feels the need to protect itself from Iran.
Consequently, I believe that if Iran does not change its policies in the near future, it won't be able to integrate into the international community and will become even more isolated than it is now, which likely will have a negative impact on the Iranian people.
Question: The state of Israel and you, Mr. President, have campaigned strongly to deal with Iran's nuclear intentions in the UN's Security Council. Now that this objective has been achieved, what lies ahead for Iran in your opinion?
Katsav: In the last year Iran misjudged the willingness of Europe and the international community to reach understandings with it, taking it as a manifestation of weakness and indecision. The fact that the Security Council decided to deal with Iran's nuclear intentions is essentially a message to Iran from the international community that it will not be willing to tolerate an Iran with a nuclear capability and an Iran that collaborates with terrorist organizations. In the past there were various suggestions in the framework of financial and other agreements to benefit with Iran. But Iran interpreted those suggestions in a mistaken way and deceived the international community on several occasions. Apparently Iran thinks that it can continue to deceive the world in order to reach its goals.
However, it has to understand that the standards of the international community manifest firmness and that in that regard there will be no concessions or willingness to compromise. Iran has no need for long-range missiles or to collaborate with terrorist organizations all over the world. Iran stands behind a substantial number of terrorist actions against us, together with Hizballah and the Islamic Jihad. It pretends to care for the Palestinians more than the Palestinians' own leaders and acts against the interests of [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmud Abbas, who was elected in democratic elections to be the leader of the Palestinians.
Question: How do you view the recent visit of Khalid Mish'al to Iran?
Katsav: It once again demonstrates how fundamentalist governments and organizations endanger stability in the world. The Hamas organization is unwilling to honor the obligations that the Palestinian Authority has signed. The bond of Khalid Mish'al with the Syrian regime, with Hizballah, and with Iran raises real concerns not only here in Israel, but also in Europe and in the UN.
Iranian President Ahmadinejad (left) meeting with Hamas leader Khalid Mish'al in Tehran in February (Fars)
The international community and Israel have the same opinion regarding the Hamas government. We don't say we are going to boycott it forever. What we say is that the Hamas government must abide by the obligations the Palestinian Authority has signed, and it must stop all terrorist activity against Israel and accept its right to exist. This is the opinion not only of Israel, but of the whole international community. The collaboration of Khalid Mish'al with the Iranian fundamentalist regime is very dangerous, and the world is very concerned about that.
Question: If eventually Israel attacks Iran's nuclear facilities, what will happen in the Middle East?
Katsav: I don't think that Iran with a nuclear capability will be just the problem of the state of Israel. It is true that [Iranian President Mahmud] Ahmadinejad calls for the destruction of Israel and if he had nuclear weapons, it would put us in an inconvenient situation, but this is a matter that concerns the whole world. When a totalitarian regime that has contacts with terrorist organizations tries to obtain nuclear weapons, it is a matter of concern not only to Israel. The international community is united in its refusal to allow Iran to have a nuclear capability. Even Russia and China, which were considered more moderate in regard to their dealings with Iran, strongly oppose a nuclear Iran. It is one of those rare occasions when the world is united against Iran, since the Iranian regime isolated its country. Iran needs to read the writing on the wall, and instead of acting against the international community, it should try to integrate with it.
Question: You are citizen No. 1 in Israel, but you were born in Iran, in the city of Yazd. What are your memories from Iran and what do you feel toward the Iranian people and culture? What reminds you of Iran?
Katsav: I am proud to be the president of the state of Israel. Thanks to the democratic values that exist in Israel, I was able to reach the high position of president of the state of Israel. At the same time, I have strong sentiments toward Iran, since I distinguish between the Iranian regime and the Iranian people. I highly esteem Iranian music and culture and hope for the day when I will be able to visit Iran, since I believe that Iran is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Persian social manners are well known, and there is no other society that can compete with them. Unfortunately, the Iranian regime sets a high wall around Iran so the world cannot see its beauties. Naturally, I would like to visit the city of Yazd -- my homeland -- where my eldest brother and my grandfather are buried. Our family has lived in Iran for 2,500 years, and Iranian Jewry has the long history in that land.
Question: Are your words in this interview directed solely to the Iranian people, or do you have also a message to the Iranian regime?
Katsav: The Iranian regime doesn't express the wishes and values of the Iranian people. I am sure the majority of Iranians want a peace agreement with Israel and want Iran to integrate with the international community and accept its universal values. It would be wise of the Iranian regime to change its policies toward the world. I have no doubt that eventually universal values and fraternity among nations will defeat Ahmadinejad's fanatical and dangerous regime.
President Ahmadinejad visiting the tomb of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in October (Fars)
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"I have been notifying the Muslims of the danger posed by the usurper Israel," Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini,
father of Iran's Islamic Revolution, said in an August 1979 announcement. "I ask all the Muslims of the world and the Muslim governments to join together to sever the hand of this usurper and its supporters...and, through a ceremony demonstrating the solidarity of Muslims worldwide, announce their support for the legitimate rights of the Muslim people..." (more)
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INTERVIEW: On December 22, 2005, RFE/RL's Radio Farda spoke with FRED ZEIDMAN, director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Zeidman commented on Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's anti-Israeli comments.
LISTEN Hear the complete interview (about nine minutes):
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ARCHIVE: For an archive of RFE/RL's coverage of Iran, click here.