Negotiation with US Does Not Mean Surrender

Etemad (Persian Morning Daily)
Tuesday, Aug 13, 2002, Vol. 1, No 52

By: Fayyaz Zahed
Pages: 2 & 5


Summary: Dr. Ataollah Mohajerani, the Director of the Center for Dialogue Among Civilizations, says that although in the face of American threats we should prepare ourselves for the worst conditions however talks with the US do not mean surrender.

He also says believing in determinism and expecting God to protect us and help us to pass through these conditions without hardships, still we do not take account of the situation and the political groups do not pay attention to the future of the nation and politics has given way to obstinacy.

In this interview, the full text of which follows, Mohajerani already puts himself up as a candidate for future presidential elections.

Text: In order to make readers familiar with views and thoughts of famous figures in the field of politics, economy and culture, Etemad daily has arranged some frank interviews with them.

We hold the first interview of this kind with Dr. Ataollah Mohajerani, the former Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance and currently the Director of the Center for Dialogue Among Civilizations. There is no doubt that Dr. Mohajerani is a well known personality for all Iranian and does not need introduction, but there are still a lot of people who would like to penetrate into his inner mind and get more familiar with his political and cultural attitudes.

In these profound interviews some points may be raised with which some individuals and political currents may agree or disagree. As Etemad daily wants to transmit information in a transparent way so it does not seek to select parts of the statements of interviewees, but it wants to stress the important point that the daily does not necessarily confirm or refute the views or information presented by interviewees. Etemad is of the opinion that it is only up to readers and real or legal persons to accept or reject the views expressed in these profound interviews.

Dr. Mohajerani is a culturally oriented politician. Even his opponents have praised his mastery of verbal and written words. Although he has been accused of taking different decisions and adopting different stands at various time junctures, his role in the recent developments cannot be ignored. In the following interview he expresses views candidly about various topics, but the preliminary interview that was published in an issue of (Etemad) several days ago prompted the conservatives' hasty reaction. For the same reason, the political desk of Etemad organized this interview. Q: Dr. Mohajerani! I am glad that an opportunity has been provided for this interview. As the first question, what is the situation of the Executives of Construction (Kargozaran Sazandegi) Party today?

A: The Executives of Construction has decided recently not to take an active part in the developments, either in domestic or foreign policies. There were some reasons for this state of affairs. One reason was the difficulties that arose for its Secretary General, Mr. (Gholamhussein) Karbaschi (former Tehran mayor), the other being the political considerations pertaining to topics of the day in the country. In any case the Executives found it more expedient to refrain from taking stands openly, otherwise an impression might have been created that it was not in harmony with aggregate developments. Anyhow the above two reasons together with the closure of Mihan daily (mouthpiece of the party), without there being any trial or suit against it, led the ECP to refrain from taking stand openly. It does not, however, mean that it takes no stand with respect to problems of the state. In fact meetings of the Central Council have been held regularly during this period, and even some important decisions were taken in the last meeting.

What I can say briefly about these decisions is that with due regard to the actual situation in which parties should play an active role, it was suggested in the Central Council that ECP should review its policies about the developments and play a more active role.

Q: Is not the review due to onset of new elections climate? Does not ECP wake up late after its winter dormancy, as Mr. Atrianfar (a leading ECP member) put it?

A: Well, the time of winter sleep has passed. The winter sleep will come to an end one day, no matter how long it lasts. Anyhow, the winter sleep, in my opinion, was not a continuous negligence, but a calculated stand. You keep reticent at times, which does not mean dormancy.

Q: Therefore, Mr. Atrianfar has used this expression without having consulted the Central Council. Is that so?

A: It is naturally true in the case of all parties. Members hold interviews and make statements, which are not taken as the stand of the Central Council.

Q: Did you not personally agree with the expression `winter sleep'?

A: I did not approve of this expression. You must bear in mind that according to customs and usage, the stands of a party like ECP are explained by its Secretary General or Spokesman, public relations office or by means of an official declaration. The stands taken by members are not taken to reflect those of the ECP. Members of the Central Council do not think alike; persons with different horizons attend, with both diverging and converging viewpoints.

Q: In this point of wakefulness, has the time come for Mr. Karbaschi to break his silence?

A: We must debate about how position taking should begin and how activities of the ECP should resume. This commencement can take the form of a declaration made by the ECP about recent topics of the country or a press conference by the most competent person of the ECP, namely its Secretary General to throw light on the positions of the party. In any case nothing has been said about this matter yet.

Q: The ECP silence may be likened to the silence of Majma-e Rouhanioun (the left wing Militant Clerics League) after the Fourth Majlis, or is it like Mir Hussein Mousavi's (war-time prime minister) silence? What was the purpose of your silence? Was it for reconstruction and solution of problems, or was it due to lack of suitable background for political influence and activity?

A: I guess the ECP has always had this characteristic and it has shown that it is not a political adventurist and does not seek a politically feverish climate. One reason is condemnation and taking of social rights of the Secretary General and closing down the newspapers without a good cause. In this respect the ECP's silence can be taken as a kind of protest against the events that happened for the person of Karbaschi. The second reason of the silence can be said to be absence of necessary atmosphere for taking a worthy stand. When you cannot say the whole truth you will not be contented to tell a part of it. The third reason is the tumultuous political conditions in the country. When Kant was asked to express an opinion about something he replied: "The world is noisy and disorderly enough, philosophers need not make it noisier."

The ECP members are not philosophers, but when we looked at political climate we found it to be so excited and dense from the speeches that we did not seek to enflame and aggravate it by means of speeches.

Q: The ECP itself was one of the creators of Khordad 2nd (May 23rd) move (Khatami's accession to power in 1997), why could it not benefit from the climate thus created?

A: Of course the ECP was could be considered as one of the parties and groups that were instrumental in appearance of the new climate. Its influence cannot be denied. That is because the ECP, through its appearance in the elections of the Fifth Majlis did not allow political stalemate to take place through domination of the rightists in the Fifth Majlis. On the other hand we were always ready to work with the reformists and, as you know, collaborated with Khordad 2nd (May 23rd) movement and participated in the Khatami government. But the reasons for our refusal to play an active political role were mentioned above.

Q: You have not answered my question yet. Will Karbaschi break his silence?

A: I think this question must be put to him. I have not asked him this question yet.

Q: What is your assessment as a friend, companion and intelligent person? Will Mr. Karbaschi break his silence?

A: I do not think so.

Q: One day when pressed by the people including some of your friends you said that you are Khatami's minister, not ECP's. Today you are neither Khatami's minister nor ECP's. What is your proper place now?

A: Today I am Mr. Katami's advisor and in charge of the International Centre for Dialogue Among Civilizations, which was originated by Mr. Katami at the level of international community. This is my position, and I am also engaged in academic, press and research activities, which I do not want to underestimate.

Q: Are you a member of ECP as well?

A: Yes, and it is undeniable. But I must stress again that even when I was Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance I did not view matters from the angle of a party called ECP. The proof of my views is the appointments I made while I was there. During my term of office as the minister no appointment was made from the ECP's stand. No party consideration was involved in my appointment of directors. This matter displeased some of my friends. But I argued that the field of culture is not only above the party but above the government as well, and that when I am responsible for culture I am no longer attached to the party. The party and government are in their proper places but culture is a distinct phenomenon.

Q: Mr. Mohajerani! You are generally known as a cultural personality but you sometimes take up the look of a political adventurist. For example when you were vice-president for parliamentary affairs in Hashemi (Rafsanjani) government, you roused some people's excitement by putting forward the idea of direct negotiation with the US. Many years have passed since then, and our relations with America not only have not improved but we are under the strongest pressure of that country. Looking retrospectively do you still defend your stand?

A: There is no doubt that I am a political figure as well in addition to a cultural one. In any case a cultural figure must take stand at times, and if he does not do so a vacuum will be created which cannot be filled later, and it will be left unsaid. But when you reveal unsaid things you need not remind others that you have said so, rather others remind you that you have said. I put forward the idea of direct negotiation with the US in May 1990, at the time when President George Bush Sr. had put forward the idea of liberation of Iranian and American hostages captivated in Lebanon. I felt it was a good proposal so I wrote that article. Looking back at that time and conditions prevailing then, I feel satisfied with that note and making those statements. I feel that I declared whatever I considered to be right. Even now I think that if some negotiations are to take place between Iran and the US regarding the points at issue, it does not mean surrendering to that country. That is because negotiations can be abandoned and you need not accept whatever the other party says. For example the negotiations between (late Syrian president) Hafez Assad and (Bill) Clinton over the Golan Heights in which Assad did not think even one piece to belong to Israel are sources of pride for Syria. That is why I think negotiations do not mean surrender, except for those who do not have necessary tools for dialogue so or do not know the scene.

Q: Mr. Mohajerani! In order to triumph in some negotiations, in addition to other factors it is highly important to get to know the other party. Americans are well aware of our opinions, groups, and different classes and levels of our government, but we do not seem to have good knowledge about the ideas of the American political groups. In order to acquire such information is it not necessary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to open the files of America one day?

A: I agree with your proposal. Even if we were not to hold any negotiation with America still we ought to know it. There may be some ideas about talking with the US, but no one suggests holding talks with Israel. But it does not mean that we should not get to know Israel. After all Israel is a phenomenon and we must get to know its fabric. Another interesting point is that some people regard America to be stable, fixed and rigid. America is not a country but a continent. Apart from administration there are other groups within it, such as academics, researchers, representatives, and mass media. We must study them. Even if we do not seek negotiations with America we must find ways and means to impress on the public opinion. Other people have done so, for example Vietnam during its war with America impressed on the minds of Americans. Therefore if we do not want to provoke America according to dictate of wisdom we must minimize the damages by means of our behavior. So we must get to know the American society. So such a section is necessary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other departments as well.

Q: Have we been successful in establishing contact with American public opinion? Has, in principle, anything been done in this connection?

A: No, I believe that we could have done much better, and I do not think what we have done in public interest was the best. In fact if we had known America better it would have affected the manner of our taking position.

Q: On the one hand Mr. Khatami, in his recent press conference admitted that the Clinton Administration did much better than the Bush Administration. On the other hand, it seems that Khatami (although it is not well supported) has admitted that he had made a mistake with respect to the Clinton Administration, especially after Albright apologized for the American interference in the coup d'etat of Mordad 28th (Aug 19, 1953). When you put these two events together do you think Khatami has suffered from a historical loss?

A: Of course loss of opportunities is not peculiar to Khatami. For example during the Reagan administration, his security advisor McFarlane came to Iran and even conducted negotiations with the Iranian side. In the course of (my) vote of confidence I told the MPs that they were involved in a kind of direct negotiations. McFarlane came to Tehran and conducted negotiations with the Iranians who had the blessings of the authorities and who did so to safeguard our national interests. McFarlane's arrival in Iran at the time of war (with Iraq) showed American acumen and farsightedness. It had another significance, namely during the war Reagan and us could avail ourselves of the opportunities. George Bush Sr., also put forward the idea of direct negotiations to settle the dispute. But we, unfortunately, lost both the opportunities. During Clinton, the debate about solving the problem with Iran got more pronounced, but the debate arose when the Clinton Administration was entangled with the scandal of Monica (Lewinski), so it was doubtful whether direct negotiation with Iran was the major or subsidiary matter, or it has arisen as a result of the special conditions (in America).

Another point that should be discussed here is Israel, which is seriously opposed to any kind of negotiation between Iran and the US. In fact the main objective of the Zionist lobby is to prevent any contact being established between Iran and the US. Apart from that there are some groups who reap economic and financial gains from rupture of relations between the two countries Iran and America). When we cannot meet our needs directly from the American market, we shall have to meet them from the black market at much higher prices. It has certainly economic benefits for some groups. There are some groups who control the market and make enormous profits. Naturally such groups are opposed to any kind of relations between Iran and the US and spend a considerable sum of money to hinder any negotiations. Altogether one should not engage in politics on an ideological basis; this is what is, unfortunately happening in Iran, and when it happens it is difficult to get rid of it. For example the war with Iraq was not ideological, the two Islamic countries got involved with each other over some problems. It was not the war between Islam and infidelity, but one that had erupted between two Muslim states and should have been avoided. The fire should have been extinguished and an end should have been put to fratricide as soon as possible. We made it an ideological war, saying it was a war between Islam and infidelity, and we would not stop until blasphemy was exterminated, at the end we accepted that we could have made peace with blasphemy! In conclusion, foreign relations should be variable.

We had problems with the Soviet Union at certain time junctures, and took up some extremist stands, which were discarded when conditions changed. Therefore, politics should not be made ideological, and the main points in foreign policy especially relations with the US, are national interests.

Q: Two groups, one internal and the other external, oppose the process of reforms and create crises and obstacles to defeat reforms. It seems that groups are polarized with respect to the US. Particularly Israel tries its best to block peaceful talks between Iran and the US. What is your analysis?

A: I think part of the stands of the extremist elements is due to internal political rivalry, in order to solve their inner problems and weaken the other side, and at the same time win as many votes as possible. As regards reforms you mentioned, there are some common points between domestic groups and foreign ones, namely both believe that they will not have future if reforms succeed, so they have taken up similar stands vis--vis reforms.

Q: America is trying to dismiss the Iraqi file by the end of the current Christian year. According to circumstantial evidence, after Iraq it will be Iran's turn in 2003. If the US succeeds to install the kind of government it desires in Iraq, then Iran would be surrounded by a belt. If negotiations were to be conducted after solution of the Iraqi problem, it would be from the position of weakness, which would be very bad for us. Don't you think that the either option would be bad?

A: I do not agree with the first part of your question, and I do not believe that America has set a system of priority, that it would be the turn of Iran after Iraq. America is facing some difficulties in Iraq, including the positions taken by the Arab states, and winning their support, which is not so easy. But it is not so in the case of Iran. In other words, the US does not need the support of other states to attack Iran. Another point is the psychological steps of the US, according to which it sometimes takes harsh stands against Iran and sometimes against Iraq, and it is not clear which one of these two countries they have in mind.

On the whole with American readiness, I think we should prepare ourselves for the worst conditions not for the best. We should not have peace of mind and say that we shall be target in another year. In that case we shall not be taken by surprise. We should even suppose that America by invoking the question of Iraq tries to divert the public international attention and intends to attack Iran. If this view is substantiated we should not waste even one day.

Q: For example what approach we should adopt?

A: In my opinion we should use the existing capacity and try to decrease the American hostility. It is important to impress the American public opinion. We do not try enough to clear up misunderstanding and prevent distortion of the Iranian image at the global level. We do not make use of the propaganda means. We have seen that our friends have used Iran at times of difficulties. We too must use our friends at times of difficulties and benefit from their influence.

On the whole I think the advice of Hazrat Amir (first Shia Imam, Ali) serves as a good guide, that is a wise man when confronted with two things chooses bad one and avoids the worse. We should choose the lesser evil, though the more rational method to focus at a time when we have power of choosing between bad and worse. But when we have to choose between two evils, we must study whether this year is more suitable to resort to that option, even if we do not like it, or the next year. But if an American threat is serious -- which is so -- our internal conditions are never suitable for these threats, that is we need national harmony and unity at home, but unfortunately...

Q: Why is it not so? Like Shah Mozaffar everybody is asleep, so that Teimour army comes to the gates of the town and conquer it?

A: It is a serious question that why we fail to take account of the conditions. Perhaps it is the result of determinism. Being a Muslim nation, we expect God has the duty to come and help us and to extricate us from our predicament. For example one day I went to Jebel ul Ghasin in Damascus (Syria) in which there is a cave called `hunger.' In reply to my question as to why it was called so, I was told because prophets died here. When I said that of course they would die here, they asked what I meant. I replied that God does not have duty to bring food for some people who take shelter in a cave even if they are prophets. At all one should calculate and provide himself wit bread when one escapes. Briefly speaking one reason for lack of suitable situation is determinism. Another reason is reliance on religious feeling instead of rationalism; that is we should constantly value religious feelings and enflame them. For example if we had not used religious feelings so much during the war we would not have so many casualties and damages.

The third reason is that political groups do not think enough about the future of the nation. When we are facing threats political groups must not worsen their rivalries. You see that America is threatening Iran and at the same time political groups call their rivals American stooges, and are under the impression that if the rivals were eliminated the situation would improve. This aspect is so pronounced that politics has given way to obstinacy. Instead of facing politicians you are facing obstinate individuals. All the three factors have rendered internal conditions unsuitable for foreign threats.

Q: Dr. Mohajerani! According to intellectuals and thinkers of the society, you along with Abdullah Nouri (former vice-president who is now in jail after the Special Court for the Clergy convicted him of violating the state law) were symbols of reform in Khatami's first cabinet. You were beaten in Friday congregational prayers and smeared on the top of pulpits, worst kinds of secret letters were distributed against you and you left the portfolio under pressure. At first it was rumored that your letter of resignation was 50 pages and some said it was 16 pages, but apparently at the request of President Khatami you were contented with a couple of sentences and left quietly. I would like to know, firstly how many pages were your letter of resignation, secondly whether the time for talking about the resignation has come?

A: I believe in a proverb, namely that tasks are indebted to their times. I think the debate about resignation from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance will be a long one. It is so at least for myself who was the minister. I do not think the time is ripe for disclosure. I will reveal the matter in detail at a more suitable opportunity, Inshallah.

Q: Dr. Mohajerani! Do you think not that this subject will be dumped into the archive of history of the Iranian nation too, like the reason for our acceptance of UN Resolution 598, the persons who were behind the serial murders, etc? Don't you think that Mohajerani is behaving like other authorities of this country? Don't you think that the Iranian nation is competent enough to know why the reformist minister of the Islamic guidance was not entitled to remain in Khatami's cabinet at a time when the latter won 22 million votes?

A: I express my thanks for your sentiments and kindness, but I will not be provoked (laugh). I think the subject can be revealed after Khatami's term of office. I am interested in writing all the matters related to my resignation in a serene state of mind. I have the plan in my mind.

Q: So we can expect another book of yours under the title: "Resignation"?

A: I was the minister for a period of 40 months, that is my term of office lasted 40 months. This period was the best and the most auspicious position I have ever held. I intend to write a book about it, which will of course include my resignation too.

Q: Dr. Mohajerani! You were the Minister of culture at one time and are certainly acquainted with a wide spectrum of writers, journalists and intellectuals. We have the scenario of Siyamak Pourzand in recent days. What is your comment on dragging a writer to TV? For example Masoud Behnoud was dragged to TV and he admitted that he had smoked opium. At the same time they are worried about cultural assault. When writers and intellectuals are discredited what remains for the society? What impact will it have on the minds of the young?

A: It is certainly an unsuitable method. In the letter by Imam Amir to Malek Ashtar (a provincial ruler of the time), there is a term and expression, which we seem to have forgotten, and we have never thought to perform an act that is useful. The expression is that the society has some defects, which must be concealed. Who is the most competent person to conceal it? He answers: "It is the government." The government should cover up the defects and educate the society. If the government magnifies the defects, even the secret ones, it would not be a right thing to do. I do not believe in confessions made by inmates in detention houses. I believe that only those confessions made freely and without pressure of the police and security forces are acceptable. Some parts of the statements may be true and some parts may have been made for his reconstruction.

I can state briefly that there are some defects and shortcomings in our society. But scarring and smearing the faces of persons who have got on in years and who must be taken care of will certainly do a lot of harm to the young and future generations.

Q: Dr. Mohajerani! When I was studying for B.Sc degree in the University of Isfahan, I often went to the library and met the librarian called Jebel Ameli. He used to say that Mohajerani was the first person to enter the library and the last person to leave it. Your two speeches during the vote of confidence and impeachment at the parliament showed that you have a clear and lucid mind. This is not possible without studying and reading. Please explain for the young how could you get time to read with all your engagements?

A: There is an incentive in me that has not been weakened, namely learning. I always feel I am behind, even tough I take and read new books. I like this statement of Avicenna that says: "Radius of a man's knowledge is proportional to the surface area of the circle of his ignorance. The longer the radius gets the wider will be the area. So the desire to acquire knowledge rises." It is true in my case; if I do not go to the library one week or not ring a friend and ask for a book or not order it, I would feel that I have lost something. During the last few years I have formed a small private library at home. I think that it is one of the best libraries in the fields I need. I have always causes for reading and writing. I never read a book merely to fill my leisure time, if I read a book it is because I need it or have something to do with it. That is why the contents are impressed on my mind. For example that article I am writing in Etella'at about `Khosrow and Shirin' has induced me to read books and collect materials. I have to do two or three months research for that or ask questions from my friends who are knowledgeable about it. All these things help me to learn. At the same time I would like to recommend my young friends what books they should not read. That is because our time is so limited and the number of books published is so high.

Q: Therefore you do not think that any book is worth reading once?

A: Yes, this statement belonged to the time when one book was published every day. When you live in a world where 60 or 70 books are published every day then you do not have the opportunity to read all of them. So you have to make a choice. Another point that I should tell my young friends is that one does not lose by learning. In some cases one spends one's time without saving anything. But when one spends one's personal life on cultural or other subjects one would soon realizes that knowledge helps him and is a tool that he can use to improve his life.

Q: In order to answer to Salman Rushdie's book (The Satanic Verses) you apparently set aside 3 or 4 alarm clocks so that if you did not wake up by one you would wake up by another.

A: Yes, I referred to this during the debate about my vote of confidence. It was a time that quick answer had to be given. I felt that if I showed negligence I would not succeed in writing the book. I give you a new example. In order to be able to write the `Shirin' story I sleep only a couple of hours nowadays. I feel that if I want to carry on my routine life I would not be able to do the work. Man can arrange his life. God has given us the ability to get used to new conditions. Man's spirit has such ability, too.

Q: The last question: Will the Center of Dialogue Among Civilizations be the same for you as the National Library was for Seyed Mohammad Khatami?

A: Yes, it is possible, but with the difference that I will benefit from Khatami's valuable experience.

Q: Thank you.

A: Thank you.

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