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Iran: U.S. State Department Spokesman Discusses Relations

WASHINGTON, April 18, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Sean McCormack is the principal spokesman of the U.S. State Department. Radio Farda correspondent Parichehr Farzam spoke with McCormack about U.S. policies regarding Iran and the prospects for improved relations.

Radio Farda: If the people of Iran were to ask you what exactly is your position, the U.S. position, regarding the government of Iran, what would you tell them?

Sean McCormack: Well, we have clear differences with the Iranian regime, the current Iranian regime. It is not a difference with the Iranian people or Iran as a nation. The Iranian nation is a great nation with a proud culture and proud history that has a lot of offer to the rest of the world.

The problem is with the policies of the current regime. It is pursuing development of a nuclear weapon to the detriment of the Iranian people. We think that the development of nuclear weapon is a grave threat to our interests as well as to the interests of others in the region and that it is a destabilizing act. We have offered the Iranian regime negotiations, in which they can realize their right to peaceful nuclear energy. They can also realize potentially a different kind of relationship with the rest of the world, including the United States.

On their support of terrorism, their support for terrorism is contrary to interests of Iran's neighbors as well as to our interests. It results in the taking of innocent life, and I remind there is no cause that justifies the taking of innocent life.

And also, on the issue of human rights in Iran, we -- as well as others -- want the Iranian people to have the same freedom as others around the world enjoy. It is a universal right for each individual to be able to freely express their opinions, to be able to live their lives in the context of a society as they see fit, without fear of retribution from the state. That is not the case in Iran. So we will continue to speak out on those issues. But we have to underline that we have no differences with the people of Iran. Our differences are with the policies of the current regime.

Radio Farda: Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said on April 11 in Boston that military conflict with Iran was neither "inevitable nor desirable." And you, at the same time, insisted on the importance of diplomacy to solve the nuclear standoff. Do you really believe Iran will give up its nuclear ambitions like North Korea did?

McCormack: We are not asking Iran to give up its ambitions for a peaceful nuclear program. That is not at all what we are asking them to do. As matter of fact, it that's what the Iranian people want them, then we and others in the world are ready, willing, and able to work on ways in which they can realize that goal. We understand that there will be substantial energy needs for the Iranian people into the future that may or may not be the gas supplies or oil supplies. So, we don't want to deny the Iranian people the right to peaceful nuclear energy. Our problem is with the Iranian regime that says it is trying to develop peaceful nuclear energy, but in fact is our belief, along with the belief of others in the world, that they want to develop the nuclear weapon and that is unacceptable. That is an abrogation of Iran's treaty obligations. And for years they have sought to deceive the world, sought to deceive the [International Atomic Energy Agency] IAEA.

Finally the world has said that we will not stand for that anymore, we will not be deceived anymore, we want real answers. So that's the dilemma. And we have proposed a way out of that dilemma through negotiations. And we are not asking the Iranian people to give up any right, but only to make some reasonable accommodations in order to realize these negotiations.

Radio Farda: President George Bush has said, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said, and you have said as well many times that there is no freedom of speech in Iran, there is no rule of law, and there is no respect for the basic rights of Iranian citizens. How can people there have access to the free world, to accurate news?

McCormack: Well, they can tune in to Western and other news organizations. They can listen to Radio Farda; they can get on Internet, but I expect that many of those things blocked by Iranian regime. So it is very difficult to communicate directly with Iranian people through media organizations or from outside. And we don't have any presence on the ground there for reasons everybody understandS.

So what have decided is that we are encouraging people-to people-contacts. Our wrestling team went to Iran, for example, and we have invited the Iranian team to United States. There have been exchanges of medical professionals, disaster-preparedness officials. So we encourage those kind of people-to-people exchanges, which is a good way for us to get know the Iranian people after 27 years, and for the Iranian people to get to know us a little bit better.

Radio Farda: Almost half of the $66 million U.S. foreign aid to Iran for 2007 is earmarked for broadcasting to Iran. There are some critics in Congress, as well as in the executive branch, regarding the effectiveness of the contents and impact of such broadcasting. What is your reaction?

McCormack: Well, you have to try the number of different ways in order to communicate with the Iranian people. Broadcasting is one of them, and it's an important medium through which people receive news and it is important that we try to use that medium to communicate with the Iranian people. It is difficult because of the controls and blocks the Iranian regime puts on free media and access to free media other than Iranian state-controlled media. But just because it is difficul, doesn't mean you don't' try.

Radio Farda: Many people are asking if the U.S. goal is changing the regime in Iran. Is this so?

McCormack: We think that the Iranian people should be able to choose in free, fair, and transparent elections who leads them. And who leads the Iranian people under those circumstances is going to be up to Iranian people. It is  not for anybody else to decide.

Our differences are with the behavior of the regime and the policies that it pursues. If the Iranian regime changes its policies and changes its behavior, they can have a different kind of relationship with the United of States and the rest of the world. But as to who governs Iran, that should be something that is left to the Iranian people in a free, fair, ant transparent electoral process.

Radio Farda: What kind of message would you send to the Iranian people?

McCormack: Well, to the Iranian people it would be the same massage that we try to convey very often. That is, we want a good, peaceful, respectful relationship with the Iranian people. We have a lot to learn from you and we believe that we have a lot to offer to the Iranian people.

And, despite our differences with the policies of the government, don't mistakes those differences for differences with the Iranian people. We have a great deal of respect for your culture, for your history, for your literature, for your art, and we have a great deal respect for your views. And we would like very much to be able to understand those more directly, and for you to understand our views more directly. The obstacle to that, currently, is the behavior of the regime on the issue of the nuclear-weapons program. And we would hope the Iranian people speak out to their government and make it clear to them that, while they want peaceful nuclear energy, they do not support the pursuit of a nuclear weapon at the cost of ruining Iran's relationship with the rest of the world.

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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