INDO-IRAN TIES: Jawaharlal Nehru had said in The Discovery of India that India and Iran are the closest countries in the world. Iranians too hold India very dear. Our civilisation, our culture is part of a common heritage. Before the 1979 revolution we were in the Western camp that reflected American interests, and India was in the Eastern camp. India had political friends in Iraq, which was our foe. But we gradually tried to bridge the differences. Both Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi visited Iran, and so did our presidents Khatami and Hashmi (came here). The turning point was the trip of Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee and also President Khatamis. After that we could find a roadmap to move along. Dont ask me how much of it has been implemented though! Our trade five years ago was less than $700 million, plus oil. Now it is about $6 billion, out of which about 2.2 billion is non-oil. Iranian students are increasingly coming to India.
AFGHANISTAN: It has only been Iran, India and Russia who have been fighting this monster Taliban in the past. Taliban was a product of Western policies in the region and suddenly the monster has turned against them. Western countries closed their eyes to the atrocities committed by them in Afghanistan. But after 9/11 the Western countries realised, hopefully, that they had made a mistake and have come to sharing our view. Im not saying Afghanistan is a paradise now but compared to the past it is much better. At least with our joint efforts two million girls and boys have returned to schools. Many refugees have returned to their motherland. This is a great achievement, although the challenge of Taliban is still there.
AMITAV RANJAN: Are you aware of the recent difficulties in working out a pricing formula regarding the oil pipeline, which is causing delays in the project
I am not aware of it, but the gap is narrowing. I can tell you something else. We have specified a private sector company which will work out the price. Both India and Pakistan have accepted the company. It will advise on the price. Such differences can be sorted out and we should be able to set a year-end deadline for the project. Negotiations are on the right track on resolving the issues, and the pipeline issue was taken up between the Iran President and Indian Prime Minister recently. If we bring cheap energy to India our overall trade will be $12 billion. More importantly it will connect India and Iran and our friend Pakistan will be in the middle. It is very important to realise the strategic dimensions of this pipeline. The other issue that comes in the way is the political differences between India and Pakistan. The pipeline is the first giant project that India and Pakistan have agreed upon, its a huge step in the normalisation of Indo-Pak relations.
The problem with bureaucracy in the three countries is that some bodies really dont think about different dimensions of a project. Thats why President Ahmadinejad said even if bureaucrats cant decide on the price well decide it among ourselves. According to a report brought out by an Indian research institute, the pipeline will create 50 million jobs in India and Pakistan, while Iran will have a quarter million more jobs. Ive been saying we should practise south-south cooperation.
The other obstacle was security wholl guarantee the security It took a lot of energy to convince both sides that this is not the only pipeline in the world. There are many other pipelines running through much more hostile areas. We are about to invest $7 billion in the project. So you have to convince the bureaucrats and the military. Now we have minimised the problem to the price. It means the countries have confidence in each other. Its not anymore big powers coming to tell you, You should do this, you shouldnt do that.
PAMELA PHILIPOSE: Iran is also trying to sell gas to China. There is a feeling that Iran is using China as a counter to India
There is a difference. The deal with China is at an early stage. A lot of negotiation needs to be done. With India, we have finished much of the negotiations and only the finalisation has to be carried out. But I am quite sure that in the future we will be partners. We see India, China and Iran as partners.
PRANAB DHAL SAMANTA: Iran is holding up the Indo-US nuclear deal as a shining case of American duplicity. Do you agree
Some countries are known for their double standards. Indias new friend is the one which spoke of Indias disintegration some 15 years back. They were talking then of this happening and that happening. Now they are your friends. I am not criticising anything, but good luck. They speak of democracy selectively.
They dont speak of democracy in some other countries in the region. The US does not agree to our position that we want to use atomic energy for peaceful purposes. They are saying it is for military purposes. Iran is an NPT signatory. The existing agreement with the IAEA means we are bound by its terms and we are very well aware of it. They can come and check anytime. In the IAEAs report running into more than 1,300 pages, there is not one instance of diversion for military use. Let us be pragmatic about the issues that we face in the world. So yes, the Indo-US deal is about double standards.
PRANAB DHAL SAMANTA: But do you think the Indo-US nuclear deal undermines NPT
MANINI CHATTERJEE: How much damage was done to the India-Iran relations by Indias vote against Iran at the UN, and how much has that damage been repaired after meetings that the Indian PM had with the Iranian President
Well past is past. When it happened, our top people tried to control the situation. (The Chief Negotiator on this matter for Iran) Ali Larijani said we dont judge old friends on just one vote. Our trade is improving, the political relationship is growing. You have to look at it from a different angle. Whether putting pressure on Iran will help security in the region. You should not encourage America and others to follow a policy that is not in their own interest even. We are very sorry for innocent people in America and other places becoming victims of terrorist attacks. Look at whats happening in Iraq. It is close to partition. If that happens to a multi-cultural, multi-linguistic country, wont that be an example to certain groups in your and my country Wouldnt that have a geo-political impact
DEEPAK PANDEY: Does the Iranian government expect the US to launch military operations against it
Never. And we can take care of them if they do. Im sure they know that as well. I promise you itll never happen. The Americans know the importance of Iran. Suppose something happens there itll mean 5 million barrels of oil are out. The only alternative will be Saudi Arabia. But will the Saudis be stable enough In Saudi Arabia and other places they are spending billions of dollars to safeguard oil facilities from terrorists, but thats not the case in Iran. Then there is Iraq. They havent been able to clear the mess in Iraq. In case of Afghanistan they came to us and asked our help. We put our conditions and they accepted that. Americans know their long-term interest is in Iran, because of its oil, its geographical role, its links to Central Asia. Iran is a young democracy, the youngest democracy in the region. Yesterday Khatami was elected, today Ahmadinejad, tomorrow someone else.
SEEMA CHISHTI: In Islamic countries democracy seems to drop by the wayside when it comes to women. The only way to prove ones Islamic credentials is to put women behind a veil. In Iran, Shirin Ebadis human rights group is being suppressed
Well, we come from a very conservative region. We should be very careful about how to go about democracy because sometimes the people themselves are against certain things. You have to take into consideration the culture, the tradition, the religious sensibilities, and then move forward gradually. Shirin Ebadi is very much active in Iran, participating in demonstrations. But compared to other Islamic countries women in Iran can go to Parliament, drive, become vice-presidents. Girls make for 64% of all students in our schools and universities.
SAUBHIK CHAKRABARTI: What does Iran as a sovereign state gain from starting and continuing with this debate on the Holocaust
It is a matter of principle. President Ahmadinejad has said if the Holocaust happened why should the Palestinians pay for that It is the hottest question in our region. What Ahmadinejad is saying is lets talk about that, lets open the question. The Holocaust has become a taboo question. Now we are analysing the question. What have been its consequences is a very important question. We can have a debate on the number of people killed, on the consequences that have followed. Because in that lies the dilemma of the Palestinian people and the continuing neglect of their suffering.
UNNI RAJEN SHANKER: What about accusations of Iranian state support and arms supply to Hizbollah
Well thats what they claim. In the black market you can get everything. Thats how the Tamils get it in the south and thats how many of these terrorists get their arms. It doesnt need a country to back them. Second is the question, who has given Israel its sophisticated weapons Why did Israel have to kill a thousand people and destroy a country to get back two soldiers They could have simply picked up 20 soldiers, why kill innocents Nobody questions that. Hizbollah is part of Lebanons state establishment, its not a terrorist group. Perhaps Hizbollah has made a mistake but it is for the Lebanese to decide.