Accessibility links

Breaking News

Interview: U.S. Ambassador To IAEA Discusses Iran's Nuclear Program

By Fatemeh Aman Gregory Schulte (file photo) (epa) RFE/RL's Radio Farda spoke with U.S. Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Gregory Schulte on April 10.

Radio Farda: You and many other officials in the Bush administration say that you support Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy, but then you say you don't want Iran to have technology for enriching uranium. To many Iranians, these are the same thing. How would you explain the differences?

Gregory Schulte: Well, the United States does support Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy, but the right comes with an obligation, and that's an obligation to cooperate with the IAEA. And when Iran signed the [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] NPT, it promised that cooperation, but unfortunately the leadership has broken that promise. As you know, they've hidden the nuclear program for 18 years, they repeatedly lied about the extent of the program, and they refuse to provide full cooperation with the IAEA.

So Iran needs to abide by its obligations, but we don't object to the peaceful use of nuclear technology. In fact we don't object to the efforts that have been undertaken by the EU and Russia -- we've supported these efforts to give Iran access to nuclear technology. What concerns the world -- not just the United States, but many other countries -- is Iran's pursuit of enrichment and reprocessing technologies; technologies that it doesn't need to the civil use of nuclear power today, but technologies that have given the world such concern because we're concerned the intention is a military one.

Radio Farda: Right, but Iran says it needs these technologies to produce its own nuclear fuel. There is a concern that if Iran gives up its ability to produce its nuclear fuel inside the country, then Iran would be dependent on foreign sources. There is a concern that great powers, such as the United States, could use this politically, perhaps to undermine Iran's independence. What is your response?

Schulte: Well, Iran's development of enrichment and reprocessing technologies does not make any sense economically. First, Iran, as you know, doesn't have a nuclear power reactor. For the one that's under construction at Bushehr, the government of Iran has a contract with the Russian Federation to provide it fuel for the next 10 years.

Secondly, having the capability to enrich uranium doesn't make Iran independent from foreign energy sources. In fact, Iran has only enough uranium -- by its own admission -- in Iran to fuel a small program of nuclear power for a few years.

And then finally, economically it makes no sense. Iran could save tens of millions of dollars a year by buying nuclear fuel instead of making it. A good example here is South Korea. South Korea has 20 nuclear power plants, and it doesn't enrich its own fuel. It saves money, and it has reliable source of supply in the international market, which is very diversified. South Korea, a very advanced country technologically, has made the right choice. The right choice for the Iranian people is not to sink all this money into enrichment and reprocessing technologies, but to pursue nuclear power without there technologies.

Radio Farda: The Bush administration has repeatedly mentioned the problem of human rights and democracy in Iran. If Iran's leaders embraced freedom, human rights, and democracy, do you think the nuclear issue would be less of a problem?

Schulte: I think that if Iran had leaders who embraced democracy, who embraced human rights, who thought of the interests of the Iranian people, I think that leadership wouldn't be interested in nuclear weapons. I think that leadership would be interested in cooperation with the rest of the world, opening to the rest of the world, and abiding by international commitments. I think that would be a very different type of leadership.

Unfortunately, the leadership that we have in Tehran today -- or a least elements of that leadership -- are very focused not on just procuring nuclear weapons despite international concern, but also on staying in power, suppressing the rights of the Iranian people. I think the leadership needs to make a choice here; the international community has offered them a choice.

And the choices they need to make are choices that are in the interest of the Iranian people, which means pursuing nuclear power without the capabilities that so concern the international community. It means pursuing nuclear power, but in complete cooperation with the IAEA, answering all of its questions, and it means treating the Iranian people with the dignity that they deserve.

Radio Farda: Speaking of cooperation with the IAEA, doesn't the U.S. nuclear initiative with India represent a double standard? Given the fact that India is not an NPT member and Iran is, why is it OK for India to have nuclear weapons, while Iran should not even have enrichment capability?

Schulte: You can't compare India and Iran. India is a democracy. India is a country where the leadership respects the rights of its people. India is a country with a responsible foreign policy that doesn't threaten to wipe other countries off the face of the earth. India is a country whose leadership has abided by its international commitments and, under this agreement on civil nuclear cooperation, has agreed to accept additional international commitments.

And in stark contrast, the leadership in Tehran is the world's largest supporter of terrorism. It has failed to abide by its international commitments. You can't compare the two. There's not a double standard, there's a single standard, and the single standard that the international community has is compliance with international obligations.

The government of India has complied with its international obligations, and it has accepted more; the government in Tehran, unfortunately, has violated its international commitments and is perhaps the greatest threat to the nonproliferation regime today.

Radio Farda: Ambassador Schulte, some experts tell us that if the U.S. really wanted to end Iran's nuclear program, they could by giving Iran a security guarantee. Why is the U.S. willing to give a security guarantee to North Korea, but not to Iran?

Schulte: Well, I don't think we can compare Iran and North Korea. They're very different situations, and we've adopted very different strategies -- the international community has -- towards each.

Quite frankly, I don't think the people of Iran want to become like the people of North Korea, who have been completely cut off from the outside world by their leadership. The people of Iran have a great history. The people of Iran have great educations. They have a great future if only the leadership would unleash them and give them the freedom to pursue that future.

Now, in terms of security guarantees, the European Union, in its offers to the leadership in Tehran, offered not only cooperation on peaceful nuclear technology, offered not only new economic ties and access to the World Trade Organization, but they also offered discussions on security issues, precisely those issues that the Iranian leadership may wish to address.

And instead of accepting that offer of security discussions, an offer that was backed by the United States and the rest of the international community, the leadership in Tehran turned it down. If the leadership in Tehran were really worried about the security of the Iranian people, about their prosperity and future, rather than confronting the world, they would work to cooperate and negotiate with the world.

Radio Farda: There is some concern about the possibility of a U.S. military attack on Iran. Human rights activists inside Iran tell us that military action against Iran could rally Iranians behind the highly unpopular Ahmadinejad government. Is the U.S. considering military action against Iran?

Schulte: The President [George W. Bush] has not ruled out any option. Having said that, we strongly support a diplomatic solution, and that is precisely what we're working with the rest of the world to achieve.

For diplomacy to succeed, the Iranian leadership needs to make this decision that I talked about before. They have to decide what is the best path for the Iranian people. Are they going to walk down a path of confrontation and noncooperation that will leave the Iranian people increasingly isolated and subject to sanctions, or are they going to choose a different path, the path that has been opened by the European Union, Russia, and others, a path that will allow constructive engagement with the rest of the international community.

So we want a diplomatic solution, but the choice lies with the leadership in Tehran. They need to think about what's best for the Iranian people. They need to make the right choices, and we hope they make those right choices. It's not just the U.S. that hopes for that, it's many other countries in the world, from Russia and China to Egypt and Sri Lanka, that have all called Iran to cooperate with the IAEA and to give up these capabilities that give the world such concern.

What Would Sanctions Mean?

What Would Sanctions Mean?

Economic sanctions could further undermine Iran's already shaky economy (Fars)

MOVING TOWARD SANCTIONS: If the United Nations Security Council imposes sanctions on Iran, domestic support for Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad will wane, according to ALEX VATANKA, Eurasia editor for Jane's Information Group.
Vatanka told a February 24 RFE/RL briefing that "economic sanctions will hurt the average Iranian" and, consequently, many "will blame the ruling clerics" for making life difficult and "impairing the country's long term development."
Vatanka said sanctions would be a serious challenge to the Iranian government. If harsh economic sanctions were imposed, Iran's poorest population will be hurt the hardest -- and might react "as they did in the 1970s and protest in the streets." Sanctions on travel, Vatanka said, would hurt a many Iranians because "Iran is a nation of small traders" who depend on the ability to travel to earn an income. According to Vatanka, unemployment in Iran is estimated at 30 percent, "so small trading is essential to survival." Although current U.S. sanctions "haven't worked," he said, "Iranians fear an oil embargo." He stressed that "oil revenues are a major part of the economy, so it is critical to look at this sector."
Should negotiations with the European Union and the UN fail, Vatanka believes that Iran would follow a "North Korea model," since Ahmadinejad's base of support among the "Islamist militias" has been "urging withdrawal from the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty]." The Iranian government's "tactic" so far, Vatanka said, is governed by the belief that "by shouting the loudest, you'll get concessions [from the West]."


Listen to the complete panel discussion (about 60 minutes):
Real Audio Windows Media

THE COMPLETE STORY: RFE/RL's coverage of the controversy surrounding Iran's nuclear program.


An annotated timeline of Iran's nuclear program.