By Ashley Fantz
A former spokesman for Iran's nuclear program whose life was turned upside down when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused him of spying still vigorously defended his homeland's nuclear efforts on Tuesday.
Sayed Hossein Mousavian stressed that the West is making a mistake in believing that Iran is making a bomb, or that the country has nefarious intentions with its nuclear plan.
Mousavian, an associate research scholar at Princeton, spoke for an hour at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
He repeatedly said that the West, particularly the United States, must recognize Iran's right to build its nuclear program and that the United States and Iran would be better served if they were less suspicious of each other. He also argued that the international community should ease sanctions against Iran. Iranians "cannot give concession under pressure," he said, referring to the sanctions. Working under pressure is counter to Iranian culture, he said. A few people chuckled at that as they watched Mousavian on a closed-circuit television outside the auditorium where he addressed a packed audience.
Mousavian's lecture was well-attended, probably because it was billed as a "personal account" that would detail his experiences at the "heart of Iran's power structures before a dramatic fall from grace." He was the head of the Foreign Relations Committee of Iran's Supreme National Security Council and spokesman for Tehran's nuclear negotiating team.
On Tuesday, Mousavian's 612-page memoir, "The Iranian Nuclear Crisis," was published. But at Carnegie, Mousavian said very little about being suddenly arrested in Iran in 2007, and didn't describe a four-year ordeal in which he was pursued by Ahmadinejad for espionage. According to a Princeton press release touting Tuesday's lecture, Mousavian was tried on "charges of espionage for his opposition to the nuclear and foreign policy of the Ahmadinejad administration."
He was acquitted in two trials.
On Monday, Princeton provided a few excerpts of Mousavian's memoir. One contained a smidgen of color from his time working with Ahmadinejad.
Mousavian details a meeting with the Iranian president on July 19, 2005. The two talked in a temporary office the president was keeping in Iran's parliament. The conversation was scheduled to last 20 minutes, he writes out, but went on for two hours.
"President-elect Ahmadinejad and I discussed not only the nuclear issues but also the broader question of Iran's relations with the West," Mousavian wrote. "We did not have a single point of agreement in our basic views. I had the opportunity to hear directly about his foreign policy strategy, which was the most radical position I had ever heard from an Iranian politician since the revolution.
"He told me in clear terms that he did not care about the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) resolutions, nor the possible referral of the nuclear file to the U.N. Security Council, nor possible U.N. sanctions, nor the positions of the international community toward Iran, nor about relations with Western countries."
Ahmadinejad "would welcome" sanctions because they would be in the country's interest, "forcing" it to become more "independent and self-sufficient," Mousavian wrote.
"After this meeting I understood that Iran was bound for new confrontations regionally and internationally, and I had no doubt that President Ahmadinejad would order the start of enrichment activities without any compromise with the IAEA or international community," he wrote. "Nor did I doubt that Iran's nuclear dossier would be referred to the U.N. Security Council and that sanctions would be in place very soon."
After that meeting, Mousavian wrote, he offered to resign.