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Exclusive Interview: Iranís Foreign Policy Chief Talks with TIME

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RAHEB HOMAVANDI / REUTERS

Ali Larijani speaks at a news conference in Tehran earlier this month

This is part 1 of TIME's interview with Iranís Ali Larijani. Return to Time.com tomorrow for part 2 of the interview where Ali Larijani, Iran's foreign policy chief and top nuclear negotiator, says Iran will consider talks with the U.S. to address concerns that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, but only if "Mr. Bush does not harangue us" and warns that Iran's retaliation "will not be a very pleasant oneĒ if attacked by Israel.

With a showdown looming in the United Nations Security Council next week over Iran's nuclear program, Iranian chief negotiator Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, tells TIME that while Iran has no intention of obtaining nuclear weapons, the country won't suspend its research program as a bargaining step in negotiations with other countries over its nuclear program and that the threat of sanctions will have no influence. In this interview conducted in his Tehran office before Sunday's announcement of an Iranian-Russian agreement on a Russian proposal to establish a joint uranium enrichment program in Russia for Iran's future nuclear power plants, Larijani says such a deal would not in itself end the standoff.

TIME: Convince us that Iran does not want the Bomb.

Larijani: There's no place for nuclear weapons in our national security doctrine. I don't think that nuclear weapons count as a power. The root of regional power is not from the bomb. For example Pakistan: it didn't have nuclear weapons before, now it does. How much did its influence in the region change? Therefore, from a point of view of realities, there's no reason for us to pay the cost and go after it. You may not believe what I'm about to say but I have to say it anyway. When our religious leader tells us that we're not allowed to pursue nuclear weapons, then we can't go after it. In the Islamic school of thought, mass murder is a great sin.

TIME:Can the Russian proposal solve the problem?

Larijani: We really have to see the Russian proposal within a package. Other things can be added to it. What is really important is that we all work to solve this problem. We accept NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty] to be an international covenant. We are a country that is accountable. We accept supervisions and inspections by the [International Atomic Energy] Agency. If there are some questions, we are prepared to answer those questions.

TIME: Would Iran voluntarily suspend its nuclear activities once again to end the crisis?

Larijani: We are flexible, but if we stop the research, what will that solve? Mr. Bush had said that Iran is after the nuclear bomb. If we stop research, will that alleviate his concern? If they think that we are going to surrender by threats of being referred to the Security Council, they are making a mistake. The nuclear issue has become a national desire—that is, the peaceful nuclear technology.

TIME: Isn't there some advantage in suspending the nuclear activities and continuing to negotiate?

Larijani: We suspended our activities for three years. What was solved? Nothing. They [European negotiators] are repeating the same thing as in the first day, saying ďWe'll take you to the Security Council.Ē I think that even if we do that [suspend nuclear activities], then history will repeat itself. They asked us to abandon nuclear technology. They treated us really badly. They took away the trust we had in them.

TIME: Would Iran consider modifying its foreign policies, which are at the root of Western objections to Iran's nuclear program?

Larijani: We have to see what the problem is, in order to design a compatible foreign policy for that. Diplomacy does not grow in vacuum. We are not rigid in our policy. What is there to make us change our foreign policy?

TIME: What is your prediction about Iraq's future?

Larijani: The sooner they [U.S. troops] go, the better to solve the problems there. The problem in Iraq is that the presence of the U.S. forces has provided an excuse for terrorists to be there. The government of Iraq must be helped to have an army, a security system. As long as Americans are lingering around, those problems won't be solved.

TIME: What is Iran's influence in Iraq?

Larijani: We are a regional power. But we are a noble regional force. Iraq is a Muslim neighboring country. We are natural allies. Stability, democracy and security in Iraq are definitely in our interest, too. When the Americans supported Saddam, all the present leaders were our guests, including Talabani, Barzani, Jafari, Hakim, and all those. The reason for our friendship now is that it goes back many years.

TIME: Are you satisfied we will see stability soon in Iraq?

Larijani: It depends on how the Americans act. If the Americans want to bring about that situation, it will happen. Of course, I'm optimistic about the future, because through their votes people are creating stability. In fact, it is in the interest of Americans to leave soon, because they are suffering losses.

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