Q&A // Meir
As an Iranian-born Jew, Javedanfar is
irked by the 50-year-old president's threats to "wipe
Israel off the map" and finds his repeated denials of
the Holocaust are disturbing. "We know ordinary Iranians
are not like this, so it's really painful.," says
Now, as American diplomats attempt
to engage Ahmadinejad's administration in the first
bilateral talks between the two countries in more than
three decades, questions about his personal history and
geopolitical intentions are becoming increasingly
some of what Javedanfar had to say about Ahmadinejad in
a recent interview:
What kind of a person is
Ahmadinejad, and who were the people and what were the
events that shaped his life?
biggest influence on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's life was his
father, Ahmad Ahmadinejad, who was a Koran teacher
(later worked as an ironmonger). His father is a source
of his anti-American feelings. His wife is another
influence. She is an engineer and an Islamic feminist
who believes in increasing the place of women in Iranian
politics and society. During his tenure as mayor of
Tehran, Ahmadinejad opened many sports centers and
libraries especially for women. As president,
Ahmadinejad was the first president to call for women to
be allowed to go to football matches. [His efforts
failed, however.] He has three kids: one daughter and
two sons. Every single person in that house is an
engineer or studying to become one.
How do you explain his rise
from relative obscurity to win the elections for
president of Iran in 2005?
Iran the government chooses the candidates, but the
people are free to vote. Ayatollah [Seyyed
[Iran's supreme leader] helped him. There was rigging
and voter fraud for Ahmadinejad, which was decisive in
his victory. But Ahmadinejad was the least corrupt
candidate, on the surface at least, and this also helped
him. His simple image: always dressing down, his
trademark was his cheap white polyester jacket, and his
old 1977 white Peugeot, which has no air conditioner.
Also, compared to his election rival Ayatollah [Akbar
Ahmadinejad is much more personable when it comes to
talking to the poor. He has openly attacked the problem
of corruption inside Iran.
that Israel should be "wiped off the map" and that the
Holocaust was a "myth" drew widespread condemnation from
the West. What are his motivations behind these
wants to show he is a straight-talking guy who is not
afraid to say what he thinks. He wants to come across as
the Islamic version of John Wayne. Someone who shoots
from the hip, so the West and Israel better get out of
the way. He thinks this plays well with the Iranian
poor, who are the people who backed him in the election.
He also believes that in many Arab countries the people
want Israel eliminated. By saying that he wants to
become popular among all these people and he's hoping
these people will pressure their governments to change
their attitudes toward Israel and ultimately toward
Iran's nuclear program.
Do his statements
reflect the beliefs of ordinary Iranians?
majority of Iranians are not happy about what's
happening between Palestinians and Israelis. In Iran,
it's almost always the tradition to back the David
against the Goliath and in this case Israel seems like
the Goliath and Palestine seems like the David.
Nevertheless, they don't want Israel wiped off the face
of the Earth because they have nothing to gain from it.
... They are sick of wars and conflict. When it comes to
elimination, the only things they do want to see erased
are unemployment, poverty and injustice in their own
Why is Ahmadinejad so
interested in having a nuclear program?
Ahmadinejad made many promises
before the election. He said he would cut off the hand
of corruption and improve the economic status of the
poor. He failed on both accounts, with little hope for
improvement in the future. Therefore, he needed another
cause to boost his image, and the nuclear program gave
him that cause. That's the biggest reason. Another
reason Ahmadinejad wants a nuclear program is because
many Iranians believe it is their right. During the time
of the shah the Americans assisted the shah's nuclear
program. They even gave him a research reactor. But
after the revolution, just because Iran was a different
regime all of a sudden Iran wasn't allowed to have this.
To many Iranians this smacks of hypocrisy because the
[International Atomic Energy Agency] rules are
supposedly made on technical, not political grounds.
Many Iranians do believe that the West doesn't want Iran
to advance scientifically. Also, the fact that Iraq used
chemical weapons in its war against Iran and the
international community did nothing to stop it
reinforced the belief of many Iranians that only a
nuclear bomb [can deter a future] Weapons of Mass
Destruction-style attack against their country. Riots
broke out in Iran last month after the Iranian
government announced that fuel would be rationed,
reflecting the growing economic crisis in the country as
it faces increasing isolation by the West because of its
Are Iranians willing to
sacrifice their economy in order to have a nuclear
I would say no. ... Iranians want
a nuclear program but they don't want to bet the whole
farm on it. They don't want to become a North Korea.
They don't want to starve over it. They don't want to
become the bad people of the planet and be looked upon
as the evil empire. They want to do it the Persian way.
Iranians are some of the best business people in the
entire world and how do we do this? We do it through
consensus. We are fantastic negotiators. We give and we
get. Ahmadinejad is just [pursuing] his own fight like a
bully, and he expects everyone to come to Iran's side.
That's damaging Iran. Rather than accepting Iran's legal
right to nuclear technology, the international community
is looking upon Iran as an enemy who cannot be trusted.
If free and fair elections were held, he would lose, and
there is every chance that Ahmadinejad could lose in
What is the best way for the West to stop
Iran's nuclear program?
For now, unfortunately,
sanctions are the most effective way, because the Tehran
administration is not interested in making any
compromises. ... My worry is that the world has woken up
too late. If you asked me this question in the middle of
the '90s, the chances of stopping a nuclear Iran would
be higher, but now the odds are stacked against us.
Is there still an opportunity for a diplomatic
solution to the conflict over Iran and the nuclear
I think there is still a chance. However
, I don't think we will ever be able to completely
dismantle Iran's nuclear program. What we'll have to go
for is a freeze on enrichment for 25 years or something
like that. But I don't think we're going to see a
similar case of Libya or South Africa where they just
handed everything back. The West is going to have to
accept some kind of nuclear infrastructure in Iran,
perhaps with more observations from the international
community. ... The Iranian government is responsible for
a majority of the current problems, but the West has
also made numerous mistakes which have reinforced the
conservative belief in Iran that if you want anything
done for Iran's nuclear program, it has to be done
internally, away from any Western influence.
there a military solution to the West's nuclear conflict
There is a chance it might succeed,
but if we don't give diplomacy and sanctions a chance
and we just go in for an attack, then it could motivate
the regime even more to get its hands on a nuclear bomb.
It could also rally the Iranian people around the flag.
Can the world live with a nuclear
I think it would
be very difficult. Don't forget, if Iran becomes
nuclear, it would
be OPEC's first nuclear member. That would give Iran
more leverage in negotiations. Iran will use it to push
up the price of oil in order to earn money and punish
the West. Also, I think the [Middle East] would be much
more insecure. Just look at what Pakistan is doing to
the U.S. It was Pakistan's support for the Taliban which
to carryout the Sept. 11 attacks, and not Iraq. Yet Iraq
got invaded, and not Pakistan. Why? Because Pakistan has
a nuclear bomb. If the current administration in Tehran
gets its hand on a nuclear bomb, it will use it as an
insurance scheme to increase its support for militant
movements in the Middle East, with little fear of
retaliation. This will make this region dangerously
unstable, and is a scenario which should greatly worry
the West and the international community, because what
happens in this region has implications throughout the
world, as we saw in the recent Iraq
If we fail,
would the regime use its nuclear bombs in a first strike
against anyone it views as hostile? I think the
probability for this scenario is quite low. The Iranian
regime, led by Ayatollah Khamenei,
the man in charge of Iran's nuclear program, is
interested in continuation and in domination, and not
its own elimination."
Murphy is The Sun's Jerusalem bureau