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from issue no. 06/07 - 2008

Iran. Exclusive. Meeting with Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani

Thirty years after

From the Islamic revolution of 1978 to today. Iran, the reforms, its role in the world and in the dialogue between faiths

Interview with Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani by Giovanni Cubeddu

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani

Mr President, in 1978 in Iran the revolution was underway. Is it still alive today? Have these thirty years been useful in clarifying its scope, contents, purposes?
AKBAR HASHEMI RAFSANJANI: In the name of God forgiving and merciful. Obviously we have not yet achieved all the objectives to which we aspired in those early days of struggle and revolution. However, we do believe that we have achieved great things. First of all we managed to transform a regime in which we didn’t believe into one approved of by the revolutionary forces. It was a less than easy change, because we aimed at substituting the secular government with an Islamic one and the hereditary system in force within the royal family with one ratified by the popular vote. To this end structural changes were necessary, the formation of new institutions and the elimination of others: and that’s what we did in the early years of the revolution. A problem at the time was that, despite the fact that in all revolutions, including Marxist, there was normally a broad purging of the forces of the previous system, we couldn’t nor did we want to carry out these bloody purges. On the other hand, we couldn’t completely count on many officials who had been in the service of the former regime. In fact, although the administrative state body was in favor of the people, the administrators and senior officials were still dependent on the old regime. And we couldn’t totally exclude the military either, because we were in favor of the army. But naturally the commanders had to be substituted, because in the course of the struggle they had set themselves against the people. The same was true for the police and the Savak (the intelligence service, ed). Moreover in the past it was actually the American consultants and advisers who concretely administered Iran. It was thanks to their support that the country went forward, and we found this unacceptable. It was necessary to remove their hands from our affairs. So it took quite some time before a structure based on the free choice of the people could be established, which we still enjoy today. Beginning with the Sublime Hierarchy, the Supreme Guide, to the President of the Republic, the Parliament, the Municipal Councils, the Municipalities: all are selected directly or indirectly by the people, eventually by ballot. The possibility of voting we achieved by paying only a minimal cost. Sufficient to make a comparison with what happened in Iraq, – the vendettas, the purges, – or in Afghanistan after the Russians were driven away and the people won. It’s true that for a period in Iran we suffered dangerous internal rebellions, and suppressing them was not an easy task, but we managed to do so. In the early days of the revolution some armed groups of rebels formed who looted police stations and army barracks. During the same period there were armed rebellions in the Iranian provinces of Kurdistan, Khuzestan, Baluchestan, Azerbaijan, in the towns of Turkmen Sahra and even in Tehran. Combating them was not a simple task, because we could not confront them with the army or the police and we had to use the new forces of the Revolution (Pasdaran, Basiji, ed). We also suffered a coup d’état as well as economic sanctions. Then an absurd “imposed war” (the expression by which the Iran-Iraq war lasting from 1980 to 1988 is known in Iran, ed) broke out: both the East and the West were with Saddam Hussein and against us. We spent eight years defending ourselves on our own. We were under embargo while the enemy was given everything generously. You Italians have still not delivered to us the helicopters and Chinook parts that we purchased from you, on the basis of a huge contract that was never respected. The Germans instead were building the Bushehr nuclear site when they left without even repaying us the amount already paid. Also with the English we had signed several agreements for the purchase of tanks and Rapier missiles, but then they didn’t honor their commitments. The Americans blocked 11 billion petrodollars without delivering the weapons we had ordered. And it was in these conditions that we fought and in the end we won, and the UN also declared our right to war compensation. We managed to drive the Iraqis out beyond our borders and to reinstate the Declaration of Algiers (signed in 1975 by Iran and Iraq regarding the borders between the two countries, ed). Wars of this kind were never seen in any part of the world...
Afterwards the period of reconstruction and restoration of Iran began. During the war I was a military commander (Chief of the Supreme National Council of Defense, ed) and subsequently I was among those who had the responsibility of reconstructing the country (he was nominated President of Iran, ed), and I know well what we succeeded in achieving. If you make a trip around Iran, you will become aware that most of the reconstruction was planned or carried out during the first 7-8 years after the war. Of course, had we not undergone those experiences we would now be among the advanced countries because all this caused a delay in our growth. That’s why I said that we have reached only a part of our objectives, not all.
How can the nuclear issue be resolved and the embargo to which you are subjected be lifted?
HASHEMI RAFSANJANI: In my opinion the right solution is to negotiate with patience and tolerance, to inspire confidence in those who accuse us until they accept our right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. I don’t see any other ways, neither for us nor for the other parties involved.
The Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei under a portrait of the founder of the Islamic state, Ayatollah Khomeini

The Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei under a portrait of the founder of the Islamic state, Ayatollah Khomeini

How do you judge the proposal to open an American representative office, a consulate in Tehran? And the criticism of those who say that this would mean an alignment of Iran on U.S. positions, a kind of submission?
HASHEMI RAFSANJANI: Also in the past the Americans once expressed hopes of opening a representative office for its own interests in Tehran, and wanted to begin negotiations to this purpose. At the time of my presidency I set a condition, namely that first of all, to show us their goodwill, the United States release our goods subject to blockade. In the end nothing was done because the Americans did not fulfill the precondition. With regard to the opening of an American consulate in Teheran, for the time-being it is only journalistic talk, but were we to receive an official request from America in this regard, it will be studied carefully and I believe that in Iran there aren’t serious obstacles to its acceptance.
Regarding the Middle East. What is your view, Mister President, of the solution found in Doha for Lebanon, on the question of Palestine, on negotiations between Syria and Israel, on Iraq, Afghanistan… All problems of worldwide importance. What can Iran do?
HASHEMI RAFSANJANI: Yes, there are currently several issues, but the most important matter is the Palestinian one. That of Lebanon is not foremost. Since the South of the country was occupied by Israel, an armed resistance party was formed there that then expelled the Israelis. Had there not been the occupation there would have been no reason to create militia resistance groups. These in fact sustain that if the Israelis were to return the Sheba farms to Lebanon there wouldn’t be any more reason to maintain these militias. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees still live today in this small country, which has created many problems for the Lebanese people. In Syria, Lebanon, in the West Bank and Gaza there is serious and depressing pressure because of the refugees: there are five million desperate refugees, oppressed and angry, who reside in this small Middle Eastern region. The issue cannot be resolved by force, nor indeed by propaganda. Syria then assists in Israeli occupation of much of the Golan. I believe that if the world were to resolve the Palestinian question, the others would be dealt with much more easily. In Iraq as long as there are American soldiers, the problems will continue. Maybe they will succeed in the short term in establishing a e it would resolve them sooner and in the best way.
President, you are an Ayatollah, an authority recognized by the Shiite Islamic faith. How can the dialogue between religions take concrete form today?
HASHEMI RAFSANJANI: According to our Koranic principles dialogue is possible. Muhammad – it is reported in the Koran – lived in the Arabian peninsula at a time when various religions lived together there. The solution offered by the Koran is to trust in the common points of religions, which are numerous. The most important principle is God, in whom all religions believe. The second principle is prophecy and the obligations, placed on the shoulders of the prophets so that they would be brought to the people, in order that they be led by way of the divine law. The other is the resurrection, in which all divine religions believe. There are differences in the norms of worship and social laws that descend from every religion. It is the same with the different political systems, which despite the differences in lifestyle, coexist next to one another without problems. Or as it is for you with the Jewish and Christian religions, that have had conflicts historically for two thousand years: Christians considered the Jews the assassins of Jesus Christ and therefore hated them. But finally, in our time, the believers of the two religions have been reconciled through the mediation of peaceful people. In fact today even though they may also have their arguments, they nevertheless coexist peacefully. And what I have just mentioned represents one of the most difficult cases. We Muslims instead do not have any problems either with the Jews, or the Christians, or the Hindus or with the followers of Confucius in China. We can live together perfectly. The divergences and conflicts have other reasons that go beyond the beliefs. If the religious authorities find themselves in agreement, there will be agreement also among the people. Of course, it is difficult, it takes patience, openness and the desire to persevere ...
The Holy Father Benedict XVI in Sydney spoke of a world in which the spiritual desert, fear, despair are growing. He invokes the safeguarding of tradition, the roots of faith.
HASHEMI RAFSANJANI: Some traditions are good, and we must adhere to them. Others not, modern alternatives are indeed more preferable, and we must therefore refer to them. We cannot go back completely, nor can we not move forward. Certainly one cannot ignore the ancient heritage, since it is the basis of human life.
Next year the presidential elections will be held in Iran. What might be a policy proposal for the salvation and development of the country that would gain the unanimous consensus of the political parties and of Iranian society?
HASHEMI RAFSANJANI: In Iran there is no political party so powerful as to be able to have its own candidate elected autonomously to the presidency of the Republic. As far as the number of parties goes, it is like you in Italy… where coalition governments are often formed, that then fall immediately ... Since the beginning of your modern history you change government every year! In Iran, one of our weaknesses is not yet to have been able to form strong parties. There are two or three political currents in Iran: a conservative wing, a radical one and a moderate centrist one, none of which enjoys an absolute majority. Events or electoral campaigning publicity can favor one party over another in presidential elections, in the election to Speaker of the Parliament or other offices, but it is never possible that a winning formation can manage everything by itself. In Iran however there is a fixed reference point, which is essential for our country: the Supreme Guide. According to the Constitution the responsibilities of the spiritual Guide is to intervene in cases of disagreement to coordinate the three powers, (legislative, executive and judiciary, ed). In recent years it has always been a so-called “front” that won the elections, not a party or a person. Also in the future the same thing will happen: an alliance will win, right, left or center.
The Iranian President Ahmadinejad, standing on the right, during the inaugural ceremony of his mandate; center, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme religious authority; left, former presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami

The Iranian President Ahmadinejad, standing on the right, during the inaugural ceremony of his mandate; center, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme religious authority; left, former presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami

Is a constitutional reform necessary in Iran? In which sectors?
HASHEMI RAFSANJANI: I must say that our Constitution was written quickly, during the first year of the revolution. So then afterwards problems arose in its concrete application. And ten years after we reformed it. For example, in the aftermath of the revolution the norms for eventual constitutional reforms were not anticipated, but ten years afterwards the appropriate norms were established… This is all in the hands of our Supreme Leader, that when it considers reform necessary on some issues, engages individuals, groups or institutions to explore the matter, to draw up proposals, and – if the people give their consent in a referendum – put them into practice. For the moment there are no serious problems that demand an acceleration towards reforms. But there are points that it would be much better to have reformed.
You were one of the intimates of Imam Khomeini. If he were here today, what would he say, for the good of his country and peace in the world?
HASHEMI RAFSANJANI: But he is not alive now, we could ask him if he was! At the time we knew well that he wished for peace and not war. Before his death he wrote an intense (and detailed) testament and entrusted it to us to place in the custody of the parliament. Nobody knew what was written there, it was opened only after his death and only then did we discover his proposals. It was published and is still available today, so you can get a copy of it… In his will Imam Khomeini does not insist on details or minute issues but deals especially with general topics and gives advice. However, most of us (the leaders in power today, ed) who were his pupils, derived great benefit from his teachings and know what he wanted and how to comport ourselves so that he would be happy with it. However, historical circumstances do not always remain the same, and we must decide appropriately in accordance with the new requirements. I, for instance, along with very many of his students, believe that the current conflicts and tensions are not good for humanity, or for our region or our country. In these conditions everyone ends up by dissipating a large part of their own riches, and this comes to cost too much for humanity.
There will be no winners or losers, all will suffer the damages.

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