Asked this afternoon if he thinks Israel will attack his nation anytime soon in a bid to destroy work Iran is doing on nuclear technology, the Persian nation's ambassador to the United Nations told NPR, "I don't think that is going to happen."
"Iran is so strong," said Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee, and "the consequences would be devastating for [Israel] and maybe for whoever helped them. ... There are wise enough people around the world to tell them not to do such a crazy thing."
The U.S., Israel and other nations have been tightening sanctions on Iran and have been warning that it needs to be more transparent about its nuclear ambitions (Iran says it is not pursuing development of nuclear weapons). Last week, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barack said that if sanctions don't work, military action against Iran must be considered.
(Related story: NPR.org's Greg Myre today runs through "5 Reasons Why Israel Might Bomb Iran, Or Not.")
Khazaee spoke with Morning Edition co-host Steve Inskeep. He repeated something that other Iranian officials have said in recent weeks — that they are prepared to talk with the so-called 5+1 nations (China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S.) about Iran's nuclear ambitions. And Khazaee also repeated something said in recent months, but which still hasn't happened: that Iran will respond to a letter from European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton calling for such talks.
Much more from Steve's conversation with the ambassador is due on Thursday's Morning Edition. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show. After it airs, we'll add the as-broadcast version of the conversation to the top of this post.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
We'll hear next from a man making the case for Iran. Economic sanctions have put that country under increasing pressure. President Obama said in his State of the Union address that he'll take no options off the table to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamemei replied at a sermon in Tehran. He said President Obama's statement was harmful to America and war would be 10 times as harmful. The Iranian leader's warning was our starting point when we talked with Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammad Khazaee.
In what way would war be so harmful to America, do you think?
MOHAMMAD KHAZAEE: I think that the point that the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran was trying to make is that war is not something that you're looking for. And any confrontation between Iran and other countries in the region would be harmful for everybody.
So, basically this is the principle of Iranian foreign policy, and you have to try to avoid those kinds of harmful confrontations between Iran and any country in the region or outside the region.
INSKEEP: In what way could or would Iran be prepared to respond if there were, for example, a strike against its nuclear facilities?
KHAZAEE: You know, our strategy is not to initiate any strike against anybody. But if, God forbidden, someone wants to try an air strike against Iran or the Iranian nuclear facility or the Iranian national interest and security, of course the Iranian, like any other nation, will have the right to defend themselves in various strong possible way.
INSKEEP: Would that include, for example, cutting off the supply of oil through the Strait of Hormuz?
KHAZAEE: You know, I cannot say that yet. But, of course, every nation have their right to have all the options on the table.
INSKEEP: All the options on the table?
KHAZAEE: And everybody else say that.
INSKEEP: President Obama, of course, has said that, and others have said that.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
KHAZAEE: But as I mentioned before, unless Iranians are threatened seriously and somebody is going to strike against Iran or something like that, all the options would be taken into consideration.
INSKEEP: What have you thought, ambassador, as you have heard Israeli officials in various forms say that they are considering or could consider a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities?
KHAZAEE: We hear some voices from the Israeli regime about attacking Iran. But I don't think that is going to happen because, first of all, Iran is so strong to defend itself. The consequence would be devastating for them and maybe for whoever helped them. And so, I do not believe that such a thing is going to happen.
INSKEEP: Well, do you think that Israel wouldn't dare, or do you think that there is a reasonable likelihood of a negotiated settlement in which Iran and the rest of the international community would agree on a future course for Iran's nuclear program?
KHAZAEE: It has nothing to do with the Israelis. The negotiation between 5+1 and the Iran on the nuclear issue or other issues has nothing to do with Israelis.
INSKEEP: You say the 5+1. We should just define that for people. You were talking about the nations that have been coordinating a response to Iran. And there is an offer on the table for Iran to return to talks. Are you saying those talks are likely to resume soon?
KHAZAEE: Yes, exactly. We have already announced that we are ready to continue our discussion without any precondition.
INSKEEP: You give me a couple of things that I need to follow up on.
INSKEEP: The first having to do with Israel. You are correct that Israel is not a party to the nuclear negotiations, and yet Israel's concerns have become very much part of the story here. Is Israel justified to be concerned about Iran given that Iran's leaders have made statements about Israel calling it a cancerous tumor, for example?
KHAZAEE: Just to refresh the memory of your audiences, I believe, that if they listened to the Israeli authorities, you will find out that almost every day they threat Iran for attacking Iran, bombing Iran, and doing so. So, they are not in the position to talk about a civilized nation like Iran.
And also, you know, as long as the damage that will receive in the region from the Israelis, either nuclear program or killing people in (unintelligible) and so on, they could be considered a cancer in the region.
INSKEEP: Should they be concerned about Iran's intentions then given your very strong views about Israel that you just expressed?
KHAZAEE: You know, we have mentioned that the Iranian policy is not to strike against any country in the region, neighboring countries and others. But if anything happens against Iran, the respond would be really, really strong.
INSKEEP: You also mentioned, ambassador, that Iran has said that it is ready to resume negotiations with other nations over the future of its nuclear program. Now if we look for what the shape of some kind of negotiated settlement might be, I wonder if that settlement might resemble an agreement that almost happened in 2009 between the United States and its allies and Iran.
And the agreement then was that Iran would essentially give up - ship out of the country - the uranium that it's been enriching. And in return, other nations would send Iran nuclear fuel rods for whatever peaceful purposes that they needed. Do you think that in the end that could be the shape of an agreement?
KHAZAEE: It could be. But, you know, I think the point here is trust. Just raising questions and suspicions among policies is not going to be helpful. That's why we insist that we are ready to engage in serious, without precondition, discussion and find a way to get out of this kind of, I should say, childish game.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
KHAZAEE: The best way to solve this issue is a dialogue and negotiation based on fair position by both sides.
INSKEEP: One other thing to ask about, ambassador. Leading officials of your country have made it clear that they believe that sanctions against Iran, including those that the United States has been applying in recent weeks, are harmful to Iran, are damaging to Iran. Given that there is economic damage that Iranians are suffered, what benefits, if any, are Iran's people enjoying from this confrontation with the United States and from Iran's insistence on its nuclear rights as you see them?
KHAZAEE: First of all, I will say we are not looking for any confrontation for anybody. Second, even if these sanctions are harmful, there are two important points that we have to take into consideration. First, every human being, if they are under pressure and their clear rights are going to be taken away from them, they will resist.
Second, pressuring Iranians are not going to change their defending their rights. So, I believe that the target of these sanctions are Iranian nation and they are not constructive and they are not helpful. And if Iran say OK, we resist against these sanctions, it doesn't mean that we are looking for confrontation. This is the nature of the civilized nation that have been around for maybe 5,000 years.
INSKEEP: American officials think that if enough pressure is applied that Iran's supreme leader will make a different calculation about Iran's interest. Are they wrong about that?
KHAZAEE: Definitely they are wrong about that. You know, they need just to look at the Iranian history to see if Iranians have been compromising their rights for the last thousands of years.
INSKEEP: Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee, thank you very much for taking the time.
KHAZAEE: Thank you, Steve. Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.