Interview with Behzad Nabavi on Relations with US

Nowruz (Persian Morning Daily)
Saturday, May 25, 2002, Vol. 2, No. 322
Page: 9

Summary: Tehran MP Behzad Nabavi says those who think of a limited US attack against Iran, military rulership and getting rid of the reform movement are mistaken. Nothing guarantees a minor US attack on Iran and even limited attacks would give rise to severe damage. On the other hand, he says, only dependent militaries can install militarism in the present world. The following is an interview with Nabavi conducted recently.


Q: Mr. Nabavi! It seems that your comments do not suit the taste of certain individuals and groups. They cite the (MKO) explosion in the Prime Minister's office (which killed former president and prime minister Mohammad Ali Rajaei and Mohammad Javad Bahonar) or Petropars case..

A: Yes, unfortunately non-political issues are exploited for political ends and it is not correct at all. If I am at odds with a certain tendency, the best way for fight is debating its modus operandi and it is not correct to resort to any legitimate or illegitimate means to drive it out. As you said my adversaries highlight the explosion in the Prime Minister's office or Petropars case to show their opposition to me. I should say that Petropars is a new case.

Over the past years, other cases had also been raised. The Algiers Accod case, the case of the $166 million purchase of tractor from Romania, the Saipa case and finally my opinion regarding the late Imam Khomeini's fatwa (religious decree) ordering death sentence against (Indian-born writer) Salman Rushdie are among the new cases the adversaries are taking advantage to disparage me. This is the way I reject and I believe that illegitimate tools should not be used for reaching even legitimate goals.

Q: What is your assessment of the Petropars case in this regard?

A: I want to say that these methods are generally wrong: taking advantage of non-political issues to drive the rival out. The explosion in the Prime Minister's office is not a minor case. They are accusing me and several best allies of Martyr Rajaie of involvement in the blast. This case is addressed periodically, sometimes it peaks and sometimes it subsides. It is astonishing. Is this charge correct or not? If I were really involved in the case, how come they have remained silent for several years and whenever they want to retaliate politically, they wield it like a bludgeon.

Q: Wasn't this case declared closed upon the order of Imam Khomeini?

A: Yes, this case was thoroughly handled by the Judiciary and Imam Khomeini was kept privy to the outcome. In a meeting attended by the then Judiciary Chief Mr. (Abdolkarim) Mousavi Ardebili, and Prosecutor-General Mousavi Khoeiniha, the late Imam was notified of the case root-and-branch. Imam Khomeini ordered the case closed and said he was sure that certain elements intend to "kill off servants of this nation". He ordered prosecution of those who trumped up the charges. As the prosecutor-general, Mousavi Khoeiniha endorsed the closure of the case.

Anyhow, I intend to criticize such methods and I have always tried not to engage non-political issues in the political fight.

Q: Mr. Nabavi! You did not tell us your assessment of the Petropars case?

A: As for the Petropars case, I make it clear that it includes two phases. The first phase was when certain section of the press made a hue and cry two years ago before a court handled the case. A conservative-run press interviewed a member of Petropars board of directors. The questions were all but the same as charges leveled against me later. Interesting to say is that one or two papers raise certain issues as charges and subsequently official organs take them for granted.

Q: You said that the Petropars case has two phases. I think the second phase is summoning to court of the members of Petropars board of directors.

A: Yes, the second phase is based on an inquiry made by the State Inspectorate. I have thus far appeared at the court three times and cross-examined for eight hours.

Q: What grounds have you been interrogated on? You said that you have not been notified of any charges yet.

A: So far, I have been questioned about the Petropars case. Is Petropars state-run or private? Was I a real or legal member of the Petropars board of directors? How was the dollar cashed into rial? How were the foreign-based offices funded and governed? Did you assign a lawyer to file a lawsuit against certain foreign companies and how much did you earmark for this purpose? I answered such questions.

Q: Weren't these questions included in the account released by the State Inspectorate?

A: The State Inspectorate has apparently submitted its report to the court and the report does contain fraud charges. The most significant charge the State Inspectorate has leveled against the Petropars board of directors is ignoring the law banning interference of government employees in the government deals. Based on this law, the government employees, ministers, deputy ministers and the members of parliament who may set up a private entity are not allowed to close any contract with the government. If they do so, the government officials may be slapped with two to four years in jail. It was the main charge the State Inspectorate has brought about against the Petropars board of directors. Of course, it has recently submitted a second account raising another charge over establishment of the Petropars office in the United Arab Emirates.

Q: What charges have been leveled?

A: The State Inspectorate has said the UAE office does not benefit Petropars and the pension funds!

Q: Are these the only two charges leveled against you in connection with Petropars case?

A: As far as the State Inspectorate reports say, they are merely two.

Q: But, some newspapers and individuals have over the past years branded Petropars as the symbol of economic corruption and called it "petrogate"?

A: Coincidentally this is why I want the Judiciary to handle the case neutrally although the head of the three state powers have concluded that the Petropars case is not an economic corruption case. As you said, affiliates of a certain faction have taken advantage of the press and the Friday prayers podium to misportray a national pride - establishment of Petropars - as a manifestation of corruption, rent-seeking and exploitation, and defame servants of this nation. Initially, they tried to introduce Petropars as a private company financed by rent-seekers or they decided to cast doubt on funding the Khordad-2 (May 23rd) Front or the Islamic Revolution's Mujahideen Organization through Petropars. They spread lies to the extent that the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has indirectly ordered a probe into the Petropars case.

Subsequently, the State Inspectorate probed Petropars three times and failed to report any corruption, fraud, rent-seeking or misappropriation of funds. Naturally, such conditions do not suit the taste of a powerful faction that seeks to avoid establishment of such major companies as Petropars that can replace foreign contractors. Therefore, it pressured the State Inspectorate for the fourth time to make an eight-month probe into the workings of the Petropars. The esteemed inspectors even listened to the tapes containing economic council meetings to see if the building has cost high for the Petropars. Later on, unidentified agents regularly referred to the company and ransacked the building. Even, they forced the employees into vehicles in the streets for interrogation.

The outcome of the probes has been submitted to the heads of the three state powers in two reports. Neither contains any corruption or rent-seeking by the National Iranian Oil Company or the Petropars. The reports have only found several self-declared legal faults with the directors and these faults could not be filed with a court.

The Petropars case started with charges of corruption, rent-seeking and misappropriation of state funds and ended with certain so-called legal faults which are not in fact legal. Pressure groups, trumping up unfounded charges, are no more able to substantiate the allegations and have even created problems for the Anti-Corruption Headquarters and the Judiciary.

Q: If so, what was the reason behind so many hue and cries over the past two years?

A: Firstly to reach the goals I mentioned at the beginning of the interview. Once they were worried over my candidacy for the post of first vice-president. Later on my stances drew their ire and they resorted to the Petropars case as a deterrent. They were also anxious about the seventh parliamentary polls and tried to drive out the so-called "uncontrollable and dissident" elements of the race through conviction and depriving them of social rights. Secondly, it seems that behind this factional strife lie certain tendencies targeting national interests to not let us replace foreign entities in major projects and notably upstream oil and gas projects. I announce loudly that undermining the Petropars - a unique national entity - would only end in clearing the way for presence of such foreign companies like British Petroleum and Shell. That is why slogans are shouted against registration of the Petropars in England.

Q: Now, do you think that the court would find you guilty?

A: The preliminary investigations do not imply such a result. We should wait and see. I demand continuation of neutral and expert handling of the Petropars case and I do not favor taking advantage of this case for retaliation. If, God willing, an open court was held I would say many untold stories to notify the people of the behind the scene hands. These are so important issues that are worth conviction or deprivation of civil rights.

Q: Mr. Nabavi! As the last question in this field, please tell us of the Petropars and its activities since many people are uniformed or misinformed.

A: This question needs a long time to answer, but I try to sum up my response. Firstly, I have to talk about the background of this entity. Since I was the minister of heavy industries, major industrial projects, refineries, power stations and other major oil and gas projects were under consideration to be ceded to domestic contractors. Many manufacturing subsidiaries of the Ministry of Heavy Industries could afford producing equipment needed for the aforesaid projects. But, a major industrial or oil project is a product of cooperation of hundreds of manufacturing units and one or several independent manufacturing units cannot afford it. That was why all major projects were assigned on foreign companies and just non-technological sections were assigned on domestic entities. In my capacity as the minister of heavy industries, I undertook ceaseless efforts and with cooperation of the Oil Ministry, managed to give a meager share of 10 percent to Iranian companies for Bandar Abbas Refinery.

Since then, most of my colleagues in the government and the Ministry of Heavy Industries thought of establishing companies for management of projects to raise the share of Iranian contractors. Such companies are similar to construction companies that plan a building, purchase required materials and eventually erect the building with cooperation of architects and laborers. Project management companies design major projects, purchase needed equipment and materials directly or through contractors and eventually employ sub-contractors to implement the project. In this way, such companies supervise the project thoroughly.

In 1990s, the then minister of oil, Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh, and the then managing-director of power distribution company (Tavanir), Safaie Farahani, established the Mapna Company to supervise the power station projects. Shortly after, eight contracts for construction of power plants were closed with Mapna. Thank God, it has managed to deliver three power stations successfully.

The same experience was repeated in the Oil Ministry in 1997 when the first company for management of major oil projects was approved by the Economic Council and set up. It was tasked with commissioning the first phase of the joint Iran-Qatar gas field. For this first time, this company ceded 63 percent of the one billion dollar project to Iranian constructors and contractors. It was unprecedented in the history of Iranian oil industry. As the first public contractor, Petropars has managed to implement 80 percent of the first phase of South Pars gas field despite fierce opposition. If I were to take pride in something during my time in office as the minister of industries, I would cite the establishment of this company and implementation of major projects by it. I think that those who contributed to this national asset are ready for any punishment.

Q: Mr. Nabavi! Some are of the view that Jimmy Carter failed to gain enough votes after you (as a negotiator) set conditions for release of the American hostages after the US presidential election?

A: I never set such condition to release the hostages after the US presidential race.

Q: So you deny allegations of your demand for release of the American hostages after the US presidential elections?

A: Yes, the Islamic Consultative Assembly (parliament) adopted a motion assigning the government to clear the way for release of the Americans taken hostage by the Islamist students. The Algerian government mediated negotiations between the Iranian and US governments to resolve this problem. Finally, two statements were signed. One was related to the release of the American nationals and the other one was related to settlement of disputes between Tehran and Washington. These two statements are known as the Algiers Statements. The parliament agreed to release the American hostages in October 1980. The agreement coincided with the run-up to the presidential vote in the United States. During the one-month period left away to the US presidential race, Iran and the US governments negotiated through the Algerian government, which could not bear any fruit before the start of the poll. Therefore, a reason behind Carter's defeat was that the American nationals were not released before the presidential vote, but the Iranian government showed no negligence. On the contrary, Iran undertook major efforts to resolve the issue but it was a complicated task and the Muslim students could not be easily convinced to set the American hostages free. Even, the Iranian government was insisting that the Americans should be set free before Carter's term ended.

Q: Why?

A: The Iranian government was of the view that if the dispute is not settled under the Carter Administration, everything had to be repeated under the tenure of the next president. After the Algies Statements were signed, I went home to take a rest after several nights of staying up. The Algerian ambassador called me and quoted Carter as saying "do you promise to release the American nationals before my term ends if we deposit your (frozen) assets into the Algerian account in London as undertaken by the US in the Algiers accord?" I told the Algerian ambassador: "I'll try my best to do so. He should deposit the assets and I try to convince the students to release the hostages before Carter leaves the White House". I started a new round of activity despite my fatigue. Shortly, Mr. Carter deposited some three billion dollars plus the Iranian gold into the Algerian account in London and the Muslim students promised to set the hostages free.

Q: How come your efforts bore no result?

A: It did bear fruit. When the American hostages were leaving Iran, Mr. Carter was still in the White House. But when they arrived in Washington, Reagan had ascended the presidential throne. Anyhow, we undertook our efforts to make good on our promises to the Americans. We did not favor postponement of the issue to the post-Carter period.

Q: Mr. Nabavi! Recently the members of parliament marched in support of the popular Palestinian uprising (Intifadha). You had reportedly dissuaded the MPs from chanting anti-American slogans. Is that right?

A: It needs explanation to answer your question. On April 5, the presiding board of the (reformist) Khordad-2 Front issued a statement calling for a rally in support of the Palestinian struggles against Israel and Israeli massacre of defenseless Palestinians. The statement signed by members of the Khordad-2 Front was read out in the parliament.

Q: Affiliates of the minority faction in the parliament conditioned their agreement with the rally on dropping the name of Khordad-2 Front and replacing it with the name of Majlis. Why did you oppose?

A: Because our stance vis--vis Palestine is not the same in all aspects and we wanted to announce our own stance in the rally. We would certainly be in loggerheads over the resolution had we decided to hold a joint rally with the members of the minority faction in the parliament. Therefore, we appreciated the minority members and told them they could participate in the rally organized by Khordad-2 Front if they desired. For instance, if the (conservative-run) Islamic Propagation Organization decides to hold a rally on a certain occasion and the (pro-reform) Islamic Revolution's Mujahideen Organization agreed to participate in the rally, it would not imply that the rally is governed by the IRMO or everything is under governance of the IPO. So is the Khordad-2 Front. The articles of the resolution, slogans and placards had been approved by the presiding board of Khordad-2 Faction and nobody was authorized to carry a poster or placard. The ralliers should have also repeated the same slogans shouted on the megaphones. I was in charge of the executive committee of the rally. One night before the rally, the minority faction announced on the state radio that it would attend the rally organized by the Khordad-2 Front for April 7 and we welcomed them. But when we were leaving the parliament on the day scheduled for the rally, a member of the minority faction used a megaphone and shouted slogans. Naturally, I stopped him regardless of the contents of the slogans. In the course of the rally, another minority member distributed three placards bearing photos of the late Imam and the Supreme Leader. Regardless of the photos, I stopped him based on the ratification of the Khordad-2 Front. I regret to say that some members of the minority faction in the parliament tried to raise their own viewpoints and slogans in a rally organized by Khordad-2 Front and were intent on disrupting the rally.

Q: Mr. Nabavi! After the September 11 events, speculation of talks with the United States was rife among the political circles. It seems that the reformists are of the same view as for normalization of ties with the United States but they are divided over the proper time for this purpose. Some of them maintain that if talks took place now, it would prove our weakness while some others say the status quo is the best opportunity for talks. What is your assessment? Negotiations are not necessarily aimed at normalization of ties and if so the negotiations should be held between two governments. Some time ago, you announced in the city of Qazvin that you endorse normalization of ties with all countries but Israel. Mr. Nabavi! Do you advocate normalization of ties with the US?

A: Yes, I said this and I believe in it. The Khordad-2 Front is also of the same view that normalization should take place in our foreign relations. We can normalize our ties with all governments except for the Zionist regime.

Q: Do you think that the time is ripe for negotiations or normalization of ties with the United States?

A: I think when Mr. Khatami went to New York and the year 2001 was designated as the year of Dialogue Among Civilizations and Clinton attended Khatami's address from the beginning to the end and undertook relentless efforts to hold talks with Iran, the time was ripe. Or when Madeleine Albright acknowledged the US role in the 1952 coup which overthrew the government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq and apologized to the Iranian nation indirectly, endorsed the Islamic Revolution and criticized the American behavior against the Islamic Republic, the time was also very proper. When I was signing the Algiers accords on behalf of the Iranian government, I tried ten days to win the US government's commitment to pledge non-interference in Iran's internal affairs. But I did not succeed completely. They refused to sign it saying: "If we sign it, we would have admitted interfering in Iran's internal affairs so far." They proposed another sentence: "The US government has not interfered in Iran's internal affairs and it would never do so." We could not accept this sentence. Finally after ten days of marathon talks through Algerian mediators, we agreed upon this sentence: "America is committed to not interfering in Iran's internal affairs and it would not do so in future." By telling this story, I want to conclude that the US government declined to acknowledge its interference in Iran's internal affairs at a time when 52 of its nationals were held hostage here but it clearly admitted its mistakes thanks to Khatami's policies. Therefore, the best time for talks with the US was after Albright's acknowledgement of US mistakes but unfortunately it was not authorized. We may have such opportunities in the future.

Q: Shall we wait for next opportunities? Are you sure that our foreign policy would not lose similar opportunities as it did in the past?

A: Under the present circumstances that the United States threatens to launch military strikes on Iran and the US Congress bans Iranian nationals from entering that country, time is not ripe for talks. Of course, talks at the level of political and cultural entities or at parliamentary level and not at the governmental level would be helpful and they should not necessarily aim at restoration of ties. To carry out its threats against the Islamic Republic, the US should be provided with necessary grounds influenced by the public opinion in Europe, America, Iran and the whole world. All Iranians should be united. For example, the massive turnout of some 30 million voters in the presidential race did not let the United States carry out its threats. Before May 23, 1997, the US intended to target several spots in Iran by missiles but the May 23 event foiled such a threat. Although the US was citing the verdict issued by the Mykonos Court (implicating Iranian leaders at the highest level in the assassination of several Kurdish dissidents in Berlin) and the alleged involvement of Iran in the attack on Dhahran Base (in Saudi Arabia) as excuses to attack Iran, 30-million turnout in the polls left a remarkable influence on the public opinion in the world and in the United States. Today also, the US could carry out its threats once the conditions are ripe. We believe that we should opt for deterrence in an attempt to thwart these threats.

Q: How can such deterrence be created?

A: This is not a military deterrence. In other words, we should not say "we would pose threat to US oil interests if it threatens our oil interests". Or we should not threaten to carry out military retaliation if the US strikes Iran militarily. These are instigating remarks. Such threats would instigate all neighboring nations, oil-rich and other countries the United States has invested in.

The US knows our military power and our military deterrence and military threats would not separate the US economic allies from it and such threats would rather pit them against us. Military deterrence is in fact the same as belligerence.

Therefore, the only way to deal with the threats posed by the armed to the teeth superpower - the United States - is political deterrence. In political deterrence, we should take into account several important points: Firstly, we should try to promote the popular legitimacy of the regime and it is impossible unless we win the people's support for the regime. People would support a regime when they feel they contribute to installation of that regime and its policy-making. Shortly after the (1979) Islamic Revolution and also after the May 23, 1997 presidential elections, people had such a feeling. Today also if democracy and the people's civil rights and freedoms are respected, the same circumstances as after the revolution and after the May 23 would repeat and no power would dare o attack this country.

Secondly, we should not provide excuses to those posing threats. This is not correct to allege that the US would resort to other excuses. Certain excuses would convince the United States of carrying out its attacks. As you know, under the pretext of war on terrorism after September 11, the US overthrew the Taliban regime in an apparently independent country. Naturally, by accusing us of shipment of arms to Palestine and sheltering members of the terrorist al-Qaeda network, it is clearing the way for next actions. We know that after September 11, the American people have been instigated against Muslim nations notably Iran. You remember that after CNN conducted an interview with Mr. Khatami in the first year of his time in office, the American people pressured their government to facilitate visa requirements for the Iranians. But today, everyone remains silent while the US Congress bans issuance of visa for Iranian nationals. It is indicative of the tense impression inculcated into the minds of American people against Muslims and notably our people. The US government is seeking to exploit such conditions. We should know that the most important reason behind the US defeat in Vietnam and its victory in Afghanistan was the pressure of public opinion and the West.

Today, a bad picture of Muslims is portrayed to the Americans and the Western world to clear the way for attack on us. We should prove to the Americans and Westerners that we are not the Taliban and we are opposed to massacre of innocent people from any tribe. We denounce the September 11 terrorist attacks and express sympathy with the American nation. We should expand non-governmental relations with the US to clear such misunderstandings from the minds of Americans and the Westerners. There is no obstacle for expansion of non-governmental political, cultural and sports relations with the United States to soften their minds. We think that negotiations between lawmakers from these countries constitute part of political deterrence.

We should know that we live in a unipolar world and the United States can encroach on the national sovereignty and independence of any country it desires. We cannot avert threats and attacks with mere slogans.

Today, belligerence and bellicose warnings against the United States could not be trusted and contradicts our national interests. In the bi-polar world before the collapse of the former Soviet Union, it was possible for a small country to launch an armed struggle and that was when many revolutions and national uprisings culminated. But today, everything has changed and fight with the US is a politico-economic struggle based on logic. Four years ago, I said in an interview that we cannot fight the US and we aim to protect our national independence. Newspapers affiliated to a certain faction sharply criticized me. Today, I am of the same view. We should not do something to be labeled with treason against national interests and independence by the future generations.

Of course, my remarks should not imply that we should not fight to death if the US attacked Iran. I mean that we should try our best to avert possible attacks.

If certain people think of a minor US attack and militarism in the country and subsequently getting rid of the popular reform movement, they are mistaken. Nobody would guarantee a minor attack and even minor attacks would result in severe damage. Above all, dependent militaries cannot install militarism in the current world.

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