Rafsanjani: I Wanted to Negotiate With the US

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In an interview with the International Studies Journal, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani discussed a variety foreign policy issues regarding Iran’s relationship with the United States and Saudi Arabia, controversial comments he made on Israel and nuclear weapons in 2001 and extremist elements in Iran. Parts of the article have been reprinted by various Reformist publications.

Rafsanjani, who was the speaker of parliament from 1980 to 1989, claims to have written a letter to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini toward the end of his life asking him to address a variety of issues. In the letter, which Rafsanjani claimed to have delivered himself, he warned Khomeini that there are issues “that if you do not cross yourself, after you, crossing them will be very difficult.” Toward the end of Khomeini’s life it is believed that some of his top advisers and family were involved in making key decisions. Rafsanjani, who is now head of the Expediency Council, is considered to have been one of Khomeini’s closest advisers.

One of the issues that Rafsanjani believed needed addressing while Khomeini was still alive and was the supreme leader was relations with the United States. Rafsanjani said,“I wrote that eventually the style that we have now, where we neither talk nor have a relationship with America, is not sustainable. America is a superpower. What difference does Europe and America, China and America, Russia and America, have with us? If we negotiate with them, why not negotiate with America? The meaning of negotiations does not mean that we submit to them. We negotiate, if they accept our positions or if we accept their positions, it is finished.”

Rafsanjani, who was president from 1989 to 1997, said, “I wanted to establish relations with Egypt, but I could not. I wanted to begin negotiations with America based on the conditions that I put, but I could not. I could not, but it does not mean that I did not want to.”

In the interview Rafsanjani also addressed the importance of having better relations with Saudi Arabia. He said, “Relations with Saudi Arabia is not a small matter for the region. First of all, Saudi Arabia is a wealthy country and most of the Islamic scholars have a relationship with them for either hajj pilgrimage or for interests.” He continued that the Saudis “repair their mosques, they publish Qurans, they provide facilities. A large volume of what used to be done at Al Azhar in Egypt is now in the hands of the Saudis, even the academic work. More important than all of this is the oil. If Saudi Arabia had good relations with us, could the West sanction us? Only Saudi Arabia can fill Iran’s place. If they would produce their portion of OPEC no one could attack us.”

Rafsanjani blamed certain extreme forces for impeding better relations with the world. “Because the world economy cannot be without our oil, I think it is still possible to create good relations,” he said. “But there are people here that you can see do not want it.” He said to the interviewer, “You who are an expert in international and foreign relations you know that one ill-considered word has a very quick reaction. Some of the extreme statements from both sides is intolerable and needs to be changed.”

In response to the interviewer’s question about the assassinations of Iranian-Kurdish dissidents in Mykonos restaurant in Berlin, Germany, in 1992, Rafsanjani said, “There have been fundamentalists who are still here and have always been here. The Mykonos that you mentioned is this type. Currents like this have always been around. During Imam’s [Ayatollah Khomeini] time there were individuals like this, too. The imam did not agree with these types of deeds.” He continued, “I think there are still rogue elements. But the policy of the country is not like this.” In court, exiled former President Abolhassan Banisadr accused Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and then-President Rafsanjani of having responsibility for the Mykonos assassinations.

In regard to his statements on Israel and nuclear weapons in 2001 during the Tehran Friday prayers, Rafsanjani said, “At a Friday prayer, I even once recommended to the occupying Israeli regime that an atomic bomb is not in the interest of Israel. Eventually, if a nuclear conflict comes about, Israel is a small country and does not have the capacity to tolerate an atomic bomb. It is a small country and very easily all of its infrastructure can be destroyed. Of course, they interpreted this advice as a threat. We believe deeply that there should be no nuclear weapons in the region, and this has been part of the principles of our policy and always will be.”