Exclusive Interview, Part 2: Iran's Foreign Policy Chief Talks with TIME

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Ali Larijani, the top nuclear negotiator for Iran, during an interview with TIME

Part 2 of TIME's exclusive interview Ali Larijani, head of the Supreme National Security Council, Iran's highest foreign policy body, says that despite the break in U.S.-Iran ties after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Tehran would now consider direct negotiations with the Bush administration on Iran's nuclear program and other issues. Iran's hard-line stance on Israel and Iraq as well as Iran's nuclear rights, however, raise doubts about whether the long-standing enemies could have a meeting of minds.

TIME:What is Iran doing to prevent action by the U.N. Security Council?

Larijani: Certainly we are not going to take the first steps. This does not mean that for that purpose [preventing Security Council action] we shall abandon all our rights. But if there is a proposal that the rights of Iran can be secured to some extent for the present time, and the other rights can be secured through negotiations, we are open to that. In a letter that I sent to the Europeans, I told the ministers that we are prepared to talk to you to come up with a formula that prevents diversion from peaceful nuclear technology [to nuclear weapons]. If there's a will, there is a way. It can be solved even in the next few days. But if there's no will, even if you come up with 10,000 proposals, it will not solve it.

TIME: Can Iran afford to pay the price of sanctions?

Larijani: We are not really seeking adventures in the region. We will make our decisions with patience, not in haste. We have not taken this lightly. We have devised different plans for different situations. We have prepared for the worst-case scenario. They should not think for a moment that if they impose sanctions, then we'll fall down to our knees. With sanctions, their loss is no less than ours.

TIME: Are you referring to Iranian measures or a spike in oil prices as well?

Larijani: Statesmen in Europe and the West know that such actions will not bring good consequences for themselves. Many things may happen. Certainly it's not going to be only defensive actions for us.

TIME: What is the worst-case scenario?

Larijani: The same things that Americans are saying: for example, telling Israel to launch a military attack on some of our positions. There's a general rule that he who shoots first, dies in the second phase. If they take action, the response will not be a very pleasant one for them. We shall definitely defend. Don't doubt that for a second. We shall not stand idly by and watch Israelis attack our installations.

TIME: You would hit their planes, or you would attack Israel?

Larijani: We should not be revealing military strategies here.

TIME: Why not talk directly to the United States?

Larijani: We have no problems in negotiating on nuclear issues, and also issues of interest to Muslims, things that will bring calm to the region, provided that they are honest and that Mr. Bush does not harangue us. To us, negotiations are not the end. If the aim is clear, then this means can be used too. It's true that U.S. is a great power. Descartes, the great French philosopher says, "I think, therefore I am." I believe America's slogan is, "I make trouble, therefore I am."

TIME: The U.S. says the same thing about you.

Larijani: We really are an innocent country. Our Revolution is one by the oppressed people. After the Revolution, Americans did whatever they could against the Revolution, and provoked Saddam to attack us. [Former President]Khatami started a dialogue among civilizations. In Afghanistan, Iran was really cooperating to bring security. But President Bush then called Iran part of the "axis of evil." Now they have allocated $75 million for regime change in Iran.

TIME: But Iran refuses to recognize Israel. Instead, it supports Hamas and other groups fighting Israel.

Larijani: Any country can recognize another country according to its own logic. Second point: What do Hamas and Islamic Jihad want? You know it's their land. As Muslims, our duty is not confined to within our own walls. If Americans do not understand this Islamic logic, then problems will continue.

TIME: You want it both ways: Iran's President says "We want to wipe Israel off the map." Then you want the West to trust you not to build a nuclear bomb.

Larijani: These are two separate issues. We are not looking for a nuclear bomb. We are looking for a peaceful nuclear program.

TIME: But the West doesn't trust you.

Larijani: You have differences of views with us. But having differences of views doesn't mean animosity. I don't know why you are focusing on this statement by President Ahmadinejad.

TIME: Is it usual that a president calls for another country to be wiped off the map?

Larijani: He said that in a speech. He qualified it and explained that we want a democratic solution for this problem. As the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, I say that this is the policy of Iran.

TIME: Do you call on Hamas to negotiate or not negotiate with Israel to solve the problem peacefully?

Larijani: I don't think Hamas is seeking such a solution. We need not give orders to Hamas. We are only telling them to be vigilant, not to be cheated out of their rights.

TIME: Do you think Hamas can "liberate Palestine" now?

Larijani: Little by little. People gave their answers in the elections. People in the region are awakening.