October 28, 2015 Special Reports No. 43

Breaking Report: Challenging Khamenei, Rafsanjani Demands That Iran Fulfill Its Obligations Under The JCPOA, And Reveals: We Had Nuclear Option In Iran-Iraq War

October 28, 2015 | By A. Savyon, E. Kharrazi, and U. Kafash*
Iran | Special Reports No. 43

On October 26, 2015, Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of Iran's Expediency Council and the political rival of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, gave a comprehensive interview to the website "Iranians' Nuclear Hope."[1] In the interview, he says that, during the Iran-Iraq war, Iran kept the nuclear option in case it felt threatened or required this option, but chose not to act in this direction.

Rafsanjani also personally comes out against Khamenei's directives regarding the JCPOA by calling on Rohani's government to meet Iran's obligations under this agreement from July 14, 2015. This is in direct defiance of Khamenei, who on October 21, 2015 ordered Rohani's government to delay meeting these obligations until nine new conditions he has added to the JCPOA have been met.[2] Rafsanjani stresses in the interview that the majority of the Iranian people, some 80-90 percent, support the JPCOA as it was presented in July, thus creating a potential for fermenting a civil uprising against Khamenei.

Furthermore, Rafsanjani admits that both he and Khamenei were personally in charge of the development of Iran's secret nuclear program: he during his term as the Majlis speaker and later as president, and Khamenei during his presidency and later during his service as Supreme Leader. In fact, Rafsanjani reveals that, during his presidency, he sought to develop the Arak heavy water facility, in the plutonium track, and invested resources in it, though at another point in the interview he rebuts domestic criticism by explaining that Iran's concessions regarding the Arak facility do not harm Iran's national interest since the main use of the plutonium track is "for military purposes." By these statements Rafsanjani confirms suspicions that Iran tried to establish a military nuclear project.

By the very act of calling to meet Iran's commitments under the JCPOA and thereby gain international legitimacy for Iran's peaceful nuclear program, Rafsanjani exposes Khamenei as one who insists on the military nuclear option and challenges him to relinquish this option so as to let Iran take its rightful place in the international arena.

The following are translated excerpts from Rafsanjani's interview.

Rafsanjani On Nuclear Weapons

Asked to give details on Iran's nuclear activity in the first years of the Islamic Revolution, he said: "The previous regime [of the Shah, that was brought down in 1979] often referred to nuclear issues... and began to deal with very extensive work... and the Germans were meant to build the reactor at Bushehr...

"After the Revolution, the work at Bushehr was halted... Within Iran, some said that we must abandon the [nuclear] activity... and some said that we must start the research and the actual work from scratch... In the end, it was decided to continue the [nuclear] work...

"The Germans found an excuse not to come [to continue the work in Iran]... When we despaired of the Germans, we began to talk with the Pakistanis. In Pakistan, there was a scientist named Abd Al-Qadeer Khan [the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb]. I took a trip to Pakistan and I wanted to see him, but they did not let me see him... I went twice to Pakistan but I didn't see him. Khamenei also did not see him. But during the [1980-88 Iran-Iraq] war, we both dealt with it [the nuclear project], since we had to begin the [nuclear] work. Apparently Abd Al-Qadeer Khan believed that the Islamic world had to have a nuclear bomb, and he also built Pakistan's nuclear bomb... The Pakistanis agreed to help us somewhat... Some of the nuclear activity began during the war.

"Iraq came near to [uranium] enrichment [but] Israel destroyed everything. But the first time, on September 20, 1980, our air force bombed the nuclear facilities at Osirak [Iraq] with four airplanes, and I think that in late 1980 the Israelis destroyed the facilities completely with two fighter jets...  

"In 1981, the atmosphere was such that we had to arm ourselves with deterrent measures... since we thought that this war could continue another 20 years, according to the late Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini]... [But] now we have arrived here [at the stage after the JCPOA] and there is no need for us to turn to military nuclear matters."

"Q: "Iran's doctrine was always 'nuclear energy for all and nuclear weapons for none.' To the world, Iran stands behind this doctrine. How do you explain this doctrine in our regime to foreign and domestic elements?

"A: As I have said, when we started the [nuclear] work, we were at war, and we wanted to have such an option for the day our enemies wanted to use nuclear weapons. This was [our] state of mind, but things never become serious.

"However, we took seriously the non-military uses [of the nuclear project], and so we invested money and did a great deal of work. We worked in various areas and also taught a great deal. We dispatched students and invited scientists and many other things of this sort. The principle of our doctrine was the use of nuclear [energy] for peaceful purposes, even though we never abandoned [the idea] that if we were some day to face a certain threat, and if it became necessary, then we would have the option of going to the other side [i.e. to develop nuclear weapons]. But we did not have a plan to do this, and we never deviated [from civilian use]...

"I was so deeply involved in work [on this matter] that in the final days of my government... I personally approved $25 million for the heavy water reactor in Arak, which at that time was to be built in Alamut in the Qazvin [region]...

"Q: The Majlis said that the JCPOA endangers Iran's national security... Do you think [it does]?

"A: The foundations of Iran's security are so strong that this matter constitutes not even the slightest threat to Iran... Our missile defense is not part of the JCPOA and we did not even get into this issue [in the nuclear negotiations]... We made concessions on privileges, and received rights. When they see that we are reducing our enrichment units [i.e. centrifuges] from 20,000 to 6,000 or even fewer, this will be a privilege for them [i.e. the West]. The fact that they are funding the conversion of the heavy water [reactor at Arak] into a different type that has no plutonium but still has all the elements of a heavy water [reactor] - this is cutting-edge technology, and constitutes advancement for us. We do not want plutonium, because it is meant for military matters [i.e. military nuclear uses]. As far as I know, [the JCPOA] poses no national threat, and the guarantees that it will be implemented are not unilateral [i.e. they apply to the other side as well]. If they violate [it], then we can violate [it] as well."

Rafsanjani Comes Out Against Supreme Leader Khamenei's Orders

Rafsanjani's statements also show that he is the only public figure in Iran who is challenging the orders issued by Khamenei on October 21, 2015 regarding the implementation of the JCPOA.[3] He stressed in the interview that Iran needs to meet its obligations as outlined in the July 2015 agreement - the process that Khamenei has been delaying. Laying the groundwork for rebellion against Khamenei, he said that the majority of Iranians - 80% to 90% - support the July version of the JCPOA. He also brushes aside Khamenei's new conditions for Iran to implement the JCPOA, and calls on him to silence the minority in Iran that opposes it - even though Khamenei himself heads them. He said:

"Eighty to 90 percent of the people agree to the process of the JCPOA, and want to get out [of the nuclear dossier]. 'The concerned' [i.e. the ideological camp] know this. The Majlis sessions that preceded the vote [on the Majlis plan on the JCPOA] cost 'the concerned' dearly... because they affiliate themselves, in a way, with the leader [Khamenei] and it is as if they are expressing the leader's view. The leader has a tongue, and, more than anyone else, is capable of speaking [his own mind]. He could have prevented them [from speaking], and there was no need for the feud and the arguments [in the Majlis]. It is very bad that they behaved like this in the Majlis. But this is the method of the leader [Khamenei], who lets others speak their minds. It would not have been bad if [the ideological camp] had acted morally and in accordance with national interests...

"Q: What would you say are the most important achievements in the agreement?

"A: First, there will be cooperation between Iran and advanced nations in the world. After the sanctions are lifted, we will realize how many problems we had [because of them]. There is still no one who wants to discuss the damage done to us, because it isn't over yet and the time to talk about it hasn't yet come. In any case, the sanctions will be suspended and we will to some extent be compensated for them.

"After that, we will advance in the progress [of the nuclear plan] and our operations will be better. Then, our international situation will be better. Our situation in the world has become bad, and so far the Iranians have earned some respect in the world. But the warmongers [among us] think that our honor lies in being loved by the world's extremists - which is always easy, and can always be achieved.

"We are a great nation, and we must speak and operate in the world and share in the [administration of] world affairs. Iran can gain great weight in the world. The most important achievement is being officially recognized as a member state in the nuclear club, on which there has thus far been no agreement. They agreed for us to enrich [uranium], for us to have a reactor, and for us to use it for civilian purposes however we wish. In the nuclear issue, there are advanced nations and backwards nations, for example Japan, whose situation is like ours. Some 30-40 countries have the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, but no right to engage in the military aspect. We will be like them.

"Q: How do you think Iran should act in the path to implement the JCPOA?

"A: We must put into action what we have signed."[4]


*A. Savyon is Director of MEMRI's Iran Media Project; U. Kafash and E. Kharrazi are research fellows at MEMRI.  


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