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Transcript: NPR's Full Interview With Iranian Ambassador To U.N.

Majid Takht Ravanchi, Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations, at the U.N., in June 2019.
Shannon Stapleton
Majid Takht Ravanchi, Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations, at the U.N., in June 2019.

Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep talks to Majid Takht Ravanchi, Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, about whether the missile strikes Iran launched this week mark the end of retaliatory actions against the United States in response to the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, and why Soleimani had been in Baghdad.

Steve Inskeep: Is Iran's retaliation against the United States finished?

Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi: What we have said is that we took a measured, proportionate response to the terrorist assassination of our top general, Qassem Soleimani last night. And as far as Iran is concerned, that action was concluded last night. So it depends on the United States. If the U.S. ventures to attacking Iran again, definitely proportionate response will be taken in response to that attack.

We are interested if Iran intended the results that came about here. This was a limited attack in terms of the number of missiles. It killed no Americans, although you have precise weapons. Did Iran intend not to kill any Americans?

When we face the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, we said that we would act in response militarily. The timing and the place will be decided by, by us, not by anybody else. And this is exactly what happened. We chose the timing. We chose the place. And we believe that we acted in accordance with our rights based on the United Nations charter. And that was a proportionate response to the killing of Qassem Soleimani.

I am interested if Iran designed an attack to minimize American casualties, knowing that American deaths would be a red line for the United States that might lead to war.

As I said, we didn't consider any extraneous issues in our decision-making process. Our military people concluded that the action that they took was a proportionate response to the attack against Qassem Soleimani.

OK. And you said that this concluded the retaliation. So if there are people concerned about other forms of attacks, such as cyberattacks on U.S. interests or attacks by allies of Iran throughout the region, you're saying Iran would not endorse that. You are done.

We are responsible for the actions that, that we, we take. We do not consider any, any sort of actions to be taken by others. As I said and as the statement by the Revolutionary Guard was suggesting last night and early in the morning, the action was taken in accordance with our rights, which was proportionate and which was in response to the killing of Qassem Soleimani.

When you said you don't take responsibility for the actions of others, that raises a question because there was an Iraqi militia leader who was killed in the same U.S. drone strike as Gen. Soleimani. So far as we know, no revenge attack has been taken out for him. Are you saying it is entirely possible that Iraqi militias aligned with Iran could still lash out and Iran would not accept responsibility for what they're doing?

I'm not suggesting anything, anything in this regard. What I'm saying is that Iran is acting in accordance with its rights to protect its people. And the assassination of Gen. Soleimani was something that the we, we had to act in order to exercise our rights. And we are not responsible for any other people to do whatever they are going to do. So we are as I said, I'm not suggesting anything to accept or to reject any sort of actions by others.

Iran's supreme leader speaking after this retaliation said the next step was to push the United States out of the region, U.S. forces out of the region. Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said this quite memorably, quote, "You cut Soleimani's hand from his body, your foot will be cut from the region." That's what, that's what President Rouhani said to the United States. How does Iran intend to do that?

The people of the region are calling for the U.S. withdrawal from this neighborhood. Just look at the decision of the Iraqi parliament. The Iraqi parliament decided to say to the whole world that there is no place for the U.S. forces in Iraq. So as soon as the U.S. leaves the region, I believe the countries in the region will be in a much better position to resolve their differences peacefully and to get together to have a new arrangement for peace and security in the neighborhood. So the sooner the Americans leave the region, the better, not only for the people in the region but for the people of the United States. Because the American forces are not welcome in our neighborhood. They have come from thousands of miles to our region and what they have brought about is misery for the people, spending trillions of dollars as President Trump has suggested, and the outcome is the agony of all of the people in the region. So I believe it is in the interest of the United States to leave the region.

Ambassador, you're correct that Iraq's parliament did vote to expel forces from Iraq. But we should be clear, they didn't vote to expel the United States from Iraq. They voted to expel foreign forces from Iraq. And that leads us to note that Gen. Soleimani, a member of Iran's military, was in Iraq when he was killed. What was he doing there?

He was there to help the Iraqi armed forces to fight terrorists at the invitation of the Iraqi government. So he was instrumental in defeating Daesh both in Iraqi Kurdistan as well as in other parts of Iraq. He was instrumental in in defeating Daesh and other terrorists in Syria. He was instrumental in defeating al-Qaida in Afghanistan. So he's a popular, he was a popular figure in all these countries. Not only in Iran, but in the neighboring countries, because he sacrificed a lot to preserve the territorial integrity and sovereignty of, of these countries. And I believe that today, Daesh and other terrorists in the region are celebrating what the United States did to him. Therefore, it was a very unfortunate incident that the man who was the champion of fighting terrorists was slain and was assassinated in a terrorist attack.

But wasn't Gen. Soleimani the symbol of Iran's involvement in Iraq, which is something that Iraqis have been protesting against in recent months?

You know, there are different voices within Iraq, but then he was martyred. In Iraq, you saw the Iraqi people, how the Iraqi people reacted in anger and in in in respecting Soleimani and his companions, as well as the Iraqi figures who were also martyred in this attack. So one cannot say that that, that Iraq was in favor of not allowing or not asking Qassem Soleimani to help them. In fact, he sacrificed himself for the, for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq.

As you must know ambassador, the United States asserts that General Soleimani was plotting attacks against Americans, against the United States. Are you able to say if he was plotting such attacks?

It is, it is the duty of the United States to to to prove otherwise, I mean, to prove that he was he was, in fact, plotting to to kill Americans. Because --

But I can also ask you, was he plotting to kill Americans?

No, as I said, he was there in order to help the Iraqi government to better, I mean, fight terrorists pure and simple.

But let's be, but let's be clear. But let's be clear. Iran has defined the United States as terrorist. Was he or his organization planning attacks against the United States or its interests at the time?

As I said, it is, it is the duty of the United States to provide any evidence. They have been, they had been plotting to kill Qassem Soleimani for quite some time. It is crystal clear that they wanted to kill him a few months ago. It was decided at that time to President Trump, but apparently, he rejected at that time. So the claim that he was about to kill American citizens cannot be acceptable to all. And it is not being accepted even by the members of Congress. So one cannot accept this claim from the U.S. administration that the threat was imminent.

Ambassador, the last time we spoke, you said it was in Iran's interest to stay in the nuclear deal with world powers. Iran, after this incident, has said it is ceasing to observe limits on uranium enrichment, a very key part of that deal. Why?

The U.S. withdrew from the nuclear deal in ... in May 2018 and started an economic war and economic terrorism against the Iranian people. We waited for more than a year at the insistence of our European partners to stay in the nuclear deal so that they could just provide the dividend which supposed to be granted to Iran as a result of the nuclear deal. And they told us that they would compensate the withdrawal of American, I mean, government from, from the nuclear deal. But unfortunately, after more than one year, we came to this conclusion that the promises made by the Europeans were not kept and we had no other option than to do it ourselves, to to make the necessary balance in the nuclear deal. And that was why we started to take some necessary measures in order to make the nuclear deal a balanced deal.

I understand that you're lifting some of these restrictions on yourselves as a kind of protest to pressure the United States to ease economic sanctions. But the specific thing that Iran is doing here is ending compliance with limits on uranium enrichment. What does Iran want the extra uranium for, if anything?

No, we said that we do not consider any ceiling for the level of enrichment. But at the same time, we have said that we do it in accordance with our needs. The same is true with regard to the ceiling on the number of centrifuges. The last step that Iran took just a few days ago was not to recognize the ceiling for the centrifuges that are being used in Iran. That does not mean that we are going to increase drastically the number of centrifuges in Iran. But it is our right to to have as as many centrifuges as we think we need for the peaceful work of our atomic energy organization.

One final thing, ambassador. President Trump, in making his statement responding to Iran's retaliation, began with this sentence: quote, "As long as I am president of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon." Iran has said it doesn't want a nuclear weapon. Is that a statement on which you can agree with the president?

What I can tell you is that we are not seeking nuclear weapons. It is not in our interest to have nuclear weapons. It is against the religious verdict of our supreme leader. It is not within the defense doctrine of the Islamic Republic to have nuclear weapons. We believe that nuclear weapon is a liability for any country. But we cannot accept the fact that the U.S. in contravention of NPT, in contravention of the JCPOA, the resolution 2231 of the U.N. Security Council, is acting to deprive Iran from its rights. So the question should be posed to the U.S. administration, when they want to join the international community and act like a normal country in respecting international agreements.

Majid Takht Ravanchi is Iran's ambassador to the United Nations. He's in New York. Ambassador, thanks so much.

Thank you, sir.

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