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Iranian Ambassador Denies Intent to Build Nuclear Weapons

Says US must learn to treat rest of world as partners

Javad Zarif, Iran's UN ambassador before last night's event. Photo courtesy of the BU International Students Consortium.

M. Javad Zarif, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, said last night that his country does not intend to build nuclear weapons and does not believe that its possession of nuclear weapons would serve the security interests of Iran or the region. Zarif, who appeared via video link from New York City to the George Sherman Union’s Metcalf Hall, addressed a full house of approximately 1,200 students, a small contingent of which had come to protest his appearance.

“It would be crazy for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon,” said Zarif. “With all due respect to our Pakistani friends, we have been adamant in our support of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

Zarif, who is forbidden to travel more than 25 miles from New York by the U.S. Department of State, told the crowd that Iran’s nuclear aspirations went no further than finding a source of renewable energy, a claim that was received with polite skepticism by Charles Dunbar, a College of Arts and Sciences professor of international relations and former ambassador to Qatar and Yemen. Dunbar, who acted as a commentator, argued that the international community has little faith in Iran’s nuclear assertions.

The event, Ask Iran, was organized by Bilal Bilici (CAS’07), president of Boston University’s International Students Consortium (ISC) and ISC advisor Paul Greene, Metropolitan College’s assistant dean for international initiatives. University Provost David Campbell introduced the speakers, and Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore served as moderator.

The evening began with Zarif expressing his hope that leaders of the United States and Iran would begin a true and rational dialogue that would lead to peace in the Middle East. “Dialogue sometimes appears to be easy,” he said. “But dialogue requires a readiness to listen, and a readiness to examine one’s assumptions.”

“No one in Iran has lost any sleep over the removal of Saddam Hussein,” said Zarif. “We were happy that the people of Iraq were relieved of a dictator. But we also knew that the United States would create a dangerous situation that would contribute to a rise in extremism. Now it’s a mess, and no one in the region believes that the United States can bring stability to Iraq. That will require a regional effort.”

Zarif’s largely conciliatory introduction was followed by a similarly conciliatory talk by Dunbar, who worried that leaders of both countries would “allow our mouths to get us into something that our feet can’t get us out of.” Dunbar told the crowd that our two governments owed it to their people and to the rest of the world to try to work together towards peace.

After brief talks by both Zarif and Dunbar, Elmore opened the floor to questions, and about 20 students rushed to the microphone.

Asked about denials of the Holocaust by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Zarif was quick to acknowledge that the Holocaust was real. “The Holocaust was an atrocity,” he said. “It was genocide, but we should not let one genocide be used to justify another violation of human rights that has been taking place for 60 years in Palestine.”

In response to a question about alleged threats made by Iranian leaders to destroy Israel, Zarif reminded the audience that Iran had stated publicly that it will not use force against any other member of the United Nations. “Iran is not threatening other countries,” he said. “We expect other countries to say the same thing.”

Zarif also argued that the United States would not win the respect of the rest of the world as long as it regarded other countries as objects rather than equal partners, and that European nations had rejected numerous offers by Iran to allow inspectors into its nuclear facilities.

In one of the least confrontational exchanges of the evening, the ambassador denied that Iranian authorities considered the Internet a threat to their way of life. “I think Iran has the largest number of Web logs in the Middle East,” he said. “We have something like 70,000 Web logs.”

Throughout the evening, Zarif remained courteous, and the 50-odd protesters, wearing red shirts to demonstrate their solidarity, remained peaceful. Some carried posters with slogans such as “Welcome to Iran Propaganda Hour.”

“We do not believe that someone whose country has denied the Holocaust and actively supports global terrorism should be invited to speak at our university,” said Rafi Fredman (SAR’10). “It makes me very sad.”

As the event drew to a close, Elmore said he was very impressed with the civility of everyone who attended.

Chris Berdik can be reached at cberdik@bu.edu. Art Jahnke can be reached at jahnke@bu.edu.