Dennis Kuicinich (DK)
Hooshang Amirahmadi (HA)
Office of the Congressman Dennis Kucinich (Democrat-Ohio), Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC, Wednesday May 14, 2008.
HA: Congressman Kucinich thank you for this interview on US-Iran relations. Please feel free to answer or not answer any question or speak as short or as long as you want.
DK: My pleasure!
HA: My first question is a personal one; you are a democratic super delegate in this election; who are you supporting?
DK- I have not made up my mind yet.
HA: My next question is a broader one. The US and Iran have been in hostile terms for almost thirty years. Has the time come for the relations to be normalized?
DK: Yes, relations should be normalized between the US and Iran. It's quite unfortunate that the United States has not made diplomatic initiatives or has ignored diplomatic initiatives that were made by Iran in the last four years. The people of Iran have had a longstanding respect for and love for the American people. And the people of Iran have been forgiving of America's illegal interventions in the internal affairs of Iran going back to the days of Mossadegh when the CIA helped overthrow his government. So people have a capacity for forgiveness even though they don't forget it. We have to understand that we have much in common with Iran. Our people have aspirations of freedom. Our people have a desire for economic progress. Our people have aspirations for security and peaceful relations with neighbors. Iran can be a very important partner with the United States in creating a new peace in the Middle East.
HA: Then why have they not been able to achieve normalization? Who is against this relationship in the US -- any groups, political parties?
DK: Well, the initial push to undermine the sovereignty of Iran fifty five years ago came from the US oil companies. So many of our political decisions are now being driven by the desire for oil. There is a masking of our political motives and intentions but oil has a significant role to play. There is also a certain element that makes money off of war and selling weapons.
HA: But the oil companies should be for US-Iran relations because they benefit from it, right?
DK: No! Consider the situation in Iraq where the United States illegally attacked the country, and at this point is trying to force the privatization of Iraq's oil on behalf of US oil interests. Look at the high price of oil in the United States; people are paying upwards of four dollars a gallon for gasoline in the United States. This is devastating to our economy. They could not do that if the oil companies did not have the amount of control that they do. And so, what I advocate is for the Iraqi people controlling their oil. If that is established, it is established for the entire region.
HA: The US and Iran have a number of complaints against each other. For the US there are four complaints: It alleges that Iran is involved in nuclear proliferation; supports terrorism, is intervening in Iraq, and finally lacks democracy. If you were to rank these in terms of importance what would be first, second, etc?
DK: Let me speak for myself. I think we need all nations in the region get rid of nuclear weapons. I am for nuclear abolition, in the Middle East and in the world. But the Middle East, as well as the Asian subcontinent, represents flash points. We should be working to see that all nations in the region move away from nuclear weapons, as well as the technologies that are used to create nuclear weapons. What I would humbly recommend to my friends in Iran is that they take a very close look at the economics of nuclear power. The economics don't work. The cost of constructing the plants is extraordinary, the cost of processing fuel is very great; the cost of long-term storage of radioactive waste is even greater. Those costs never go away. If Iran were to invest a similar amount of money in wind and solar technologies, it could lead the world in those areas. Of course Iran has a right to develop nuclear power if it so chooses and our National Intelligence Estimate supported the statements that Iran was making, that it was not developing nuclear weapons. We also understand that if you are involved in the processing of fuel, if you have spent fuel rods, that you can use that technology and those fuels down the road for the purpose of making weapons. The United States needs to take the lead in the world towards nuclear abolition. Then we will have the credibility to tell other nations that they should not take steps towards developing nuclear technology. I would approach this with Iran from an entirely different perspective; I would say that while you have a right to develop nuclear power, it is not a sound economic decision, and it is inevitably a money loser.
HA: If you were to advise the Bush Administration tomorrow, what would you tell them in this case?
DK: Stop preparing for war.
HA: And you think the Bush Administration is preparing for war with Iran?
DK: That is what has been widely reported. There is no legitimate reason for the United States to engage in any action against Iran, and the Bush Administration has been doing everything it can to try to justify military action. I think it would be a grave mistake to do that. I work for peace. I've met with people around the world on this. There is grave concern that a military attack on Iran would destabilize the region. But there is just no question that based on numerous reports that the Administration has been slowly and steadily developing plans of attack.
HA: And why haven't they attacked yet?
DK: I think that's a political question.
HA: A political question? Some argue that the next seven, eight months will not be months of policy but of incidents. Do you agree?
DK: Well we hope that won't happen; the Iranian people are very confident, brave people, people who do not live in fear. And they should not live in fear. The Bush Administration has shown a lack of understanding of the complexities of the world, an inability to negotiate ambiguities, a lack of understanding that mutually contradicting circumstances can exist simultaneously and require diplomatic skills, not military action to reconcile. And so I think we need to open diplomatic avenues, we need to have cultural exchanges; we need to begin to see each other as potential allies. We need the support of Iran to bring about peace in the region.
HA: If you were to be invited, would you travel to Iran?
DK: Absolutely! I wouldn't hesitate. I think that we must be ready to pursue peace. This world is a dangerous world. The initiatives of individuals who are willing to stand for peace can contribute to the security of the world. And so we do not do ourselves any justice by maintaining cartoon like images of each other. Caricatures don't work; people have to talk to people. We must sit down eye to eye and address each other as equals and not as stereotypes.
HA: You say that the Bush Administration has a plan to militarily attack Iran. Yet at the same time the Bush Administration has been engaging Iran in Iraq in negotiations over security, while simultaneously accusing Iran of not being serious with that negotiation and that Iran causes more trouble than it solves; what is at play?
DK: It's a pattern of behavior of the Bush Administration. We should open up diplomatic relations with Iran. We should engage in a series of confidence building measures. The United States needs to assure Iran that it has no intention of attacking it. Iran needs to assure the United States that it has no intention of attacking Israel, or any other sovereign nation. There is a lot of room for discussion. Instead, there is incontrovertible proof that there is an outstanding war plan by the Bush Administration; whether or not they execute it is another question. At this moment when the security of the world community is in doubt, the United States can be a very important party for peace if it so chooses. We have not yet seen the Bush Administration make that choice.
HA: Why not?
DK: I know that they are not philosophically predisposed to choosing peace. They choose chaos. But when you continually choose chaos, it eventually engulfs you; the Middle East and the surrounding communities are seeking stability, not chaos. The achievement of stability requires the cooperation of all nations, and the United States to play a leading role in bringing about circumstances that de-escalate the tensions, ratchet down the rhetoric, that pursue diplomacy. Every one understands the United States military power; we have unquestioned, unchallengeable military power, but we live in a complex world where military power is not the final answer.
HA: Iraq has proven it!
DK: Yes! So we have to look at a higher authority. And that authority has to come from the human heart -- from our ability to see each other as equals having common claims to peace, security, and existence. And when we come from that level there is no difficulty that cannot be solved. But when we come from the level of military action to attempt to solve our problems, there is no matter so small that it cannot be a cause for war. So we really have to look at the world anew, without fear and for its potential for resolving differences. We may benefit from a view that says the world is one, it's interconnected interdependent. America's first motto E-Pluribus-Unum, out of many one, was not simply about the unity of states but human unity. We must strive for human unity at this time in the history of the world. It is our solemn obligation, not only for ourselves but for future generations that we work and try to find areas where we can come to agreements, where we can have reciprocity, mutual respect, and mutual progress instead of mutual destruction. That's why cultural exchanges are very important, that's why parliamentary exchanges are very important, leaders meeting leaders is also very important.
HA: So far, all I conclude from your view of Bush's doctrine of chaos is that its engagement of Iran at the negotiation table in Iraq is not serious, that they are just playing games. Let me tell you why I want to clarify this matter. In a recent meeting in the State Department I was told that Iran was not taking the negotiations in Iraq seriously. Yet, I had heard the opposite of that view in Tehran a week earlier when I was told that the Americans were not taking the negotiations in Iraq seriously! Now here you come and say that philosophically speaking, the Bush Administration could not be serious because it is for chaos, proving the point an Iranian official made.
DK: Well he is serious, but he is serious about war! Look at Iraq and you would have to see that Bush is serious about war. And he must be taken seriously for that reason. He has at his disposal the most powerful military in human history. I would take that very seriously. His talents seem to be limited to war making, he does not have a similar talent for diplomacy and peace making and that is a tragedy.
HA: Could Iraq be used by the Bush Administration as a pretext to attack Iran?
DK: Of course! There is less talk today about Iran's nuclear program in light of the NIE; there is no legitimate reason to continue making Iran's nuclear program a threat worthy of military action; however there is a lot of talk witch attempts to blame Iran for the resilience of the insurgency in Iraq, for the strength of Hezbollah in Lebanon, resistance in Gaza, and in many other places where the United States is having great difficulty, including Afghanistan. If I get in a fight in my neighbor's back yard, my neighbor may ask why I am in his backyard. And so the solution to the situation in Iraq is to end the US occupation because the occupation is the one that is fueling the insurgency. We went into Iraq; Iraq did not come to us. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. Iraq did not have the intention or capability of attacking the United States and did not have weapons of mass destruction. Iran does not have the intention or capability of attacking the United States and had nothing to do with 9/11. The build up of rhetoric against Iran parallels the build up against Iraq. When you put the phrases, indeed by the same people, and when you put their comments side by side, they seem to match. This is very serious. International law forbids making threats against other nations. Yet we have seen some of our officials make threats against Iran. I have noted that and included them in various articles of Impeachment against Vice President Dick Cheney. I think that we need to take a direction that gives Iran assurances that there will not be an attack. The energy needs to be put towards negotiations and diplomacy. However, despite all the talks trying to link Iran to weapons and munitions that enter Iraq, and groups that are adversaries of the United States in Iraq, we have yet to make a solid case against Iran. We have yet to make a case as to what we are doing in Iraq and in Lebanon. We are fighting in our neighbor's back yard and frankly our neighbor is asking what we are doing there?
HA: There is only seven months left of the Bush Administration. Could they realistically pull together a war in that short amount of time?
DK: I don't want to project fear, because I don't want to see a war happen. At the same time we have to recognize that there are plans out there. You don't need seven months. When you're President of the United States you could have everything ready in a few days. I think that there is urgency today in assuring the people of the United States that there won't be a war against Iran. People in this country are losing their jobs, they are losing their health care, and they losing their homes and pensions. Standards of living are declining sharply in many parts of this country; more people are on food stamps, a form of welfare. Life is becoming harder and harder for more Americans. Yet our government is borrowing money from China to fight this war against Iraq. We are on the verge of appropriating another 183 billion dollars, most of it to fight the war in Iraq. You know the American people can't afford another war, can't afford it economically and politically, can't afford it in terms of our alliances, can't afford it in terms of international law, and can't afford it with respect to the future of the country. This path of destruction is a very dangerous path. That's why I've been pushing efforts to have Iran help solve problems in Iraq, and to build bridges for cultural exchange.
HA: I know this is a difficult question but when you talk about plans for war, are you basing your assertion on information that is already in the public sphere or information that is yet to become public?
DK: Based on the information that is public!
HA: Do you personally consider Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist organizations? I tell you why I ask the question. Iran is labeled a terrorist nation because of the support it gives to those groups. If Hamas and Hezbollah were not considered terrorist then Iran could not have be considered a terrorist nation either.
DK: If we are to build a lasting peace, we must have an ability to speak to any and all groups in the region. If we want peace we must open up lines of communication so that no one is a stranger.
HA: Basically what I am getting from this is that you are for the inclusion of Hezbollah and Hamas; you are in favor of including them in peace discussions?
DK: Right! How can we have negotiations for peace if the very groups we are claiming to be responsible for instability are left out? I think a lot of this comes from misunderstanding of the nature of power. There is the power to destroy but there is also a greater power to create. These forces coexist but contrast in the world. We have to decide which to use and what we stand for in this world.
HA: Congressman, what is happening in the US Congress regarding Iran? Is there any new bill that targets Iran?
DK: No, there have been bills I have voted against, attempts to isolate Iran. I don't think it's smart to isolate Iran; we have to engage them peacefully and productively. When you talk to individual members of Congress they are more likely to listen, but the anomalous mass is very different; it's not positive -- which is why I think we need to have parliamentary exchange. We should get to know each other, some times we need to travel ten thousand miles to meet our brothers.
HA: Congressman, in eight months we are going to have a new administration, McCain, Clinton or Obama? That's basically the choice ...
DK: There will be a new administration.
HA: The question I have is, of the three, Obama is the only on who has said that he would hold direct talks with Iran. He has said he will engage Iran directly because it's important to engage Iran. He will have direct talks with President Ahmadinejad, he has said. This is very much the policy you have been advocating as well. Hypothetically, if Mr. Obaama is elected, can he carry that policy forward or will he be stopped?
DK: I hope that the next president of the United States, whether Senators Clinton, Obama or McCain, will be willing to speak with the leaders of Iran, will open negotiation with Iran, and will engage in confidence building measures that would lead to full diplomatic relations. We need to enlist Iran's support in resolving the full range of matters in the region, to work with Iran in creating a new structure for security in the region.
HA: So the next President of the United States would be in a position to carry that kind of direct talk ...
DK: The next President needs to do more -- to go to Iran, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq ...
HA: Iran you said?
DK: Yes, Iran!
HA: He will need to go in the first three months, six months, first year? When?
DK: It is something that needs to be done quickly; we need to reach out.
HA: McCain has been speaking very tough about Iran -- "Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran!" Do you think he should be taken very seriously?
DK: I think that what he said was said as a joke, but it was poor taste, he was trying to be funny.
HA: Is he different than Bush?
DK: Yes, I think so.
HA: For sure?
DK: Well he knows war; Mr. Bush's familiarity with war is somewhat limited. Senator McCain, because he knows the price people pay in war, you would think he would be more careful.
HA: What about Senator Clinton saying that if Iran attacked Israel, she would "obliterate" the nation?
DK: It was unfortunate and is unacceptable.
HA: Multilaterally, the US has used the UN and the EU to isolate Iran. Bilaterally, the US has been trying to engage Iran in Iraq. Some people think that when the US wants to create trouble for a country it goes multilateral; when the US wants to resolve the dispute it goes bilateral. What do you think?
DK: It's sort of like having a chess game going, you have two games of chess going, one with six players on one side and another with just one. The US likes the game with just one because it simplifies it.
HA: The reason I ask that question is because multilaterally, say in the UN, the US sets preconditions for engagement with Iran, like suspension of uranium enrichment. Yet in Iraq, they are more open to discussions without any condition.
DK: I actually think that America diminishes its power when it fails to engage in direct talks, without precondition. For the Bush Administration, the way to not negotiate is to move multilaterally. Yet, when you want a peace agreement you need multilateral engagement, you need to get the whole world on board. But you also need to start with individual members and then get the entire community to concur.
HA: But that is the exact opposite of what has happened; multilaterally the US is creating trouble for Iran, while bilaterally it is more open.
DK: Maybe they don't want to solve the problem. One thing I have seen about Iranians is that they like to deal directly, what you see is what you get. They don't like the type of negotiation where people say one thing and then do another. Some people see that as a way of using politics to get control. I see it as being negative; I see it as being a shortcoming, opposite of diplomacy that leads to misunderstanding. Whatever disagreements we have we need to put on the table and be forthright about it. We shouldn't tell people we want to work things out when we do not.
HA: Some people suggest that the Bush Administration and Ahmadinejad's Government are engaged in some sort of secret negotiations. Do you believe in that?
DK: About what?
HA: About Iraq, about nuclear issues, Hezbollah ...
DK: I hope so! I think it's important to talk, if they want to talk secretly that's okay with me, if they want to talk openly that's okay with me as well - but talk!
HA: You have participated in several of the events that the American Iranian Council has organized. The Council now is working hard to convince the two sides that their parliamentarians should meet and soon. Any advice for AIC?
DK: Keep working hard as in the past to promote understanding. Where there is darkness we have to bring light, where we have hatred we have to bring love. We need to continue to work for understanding and right choices.
HA: In 2006, the American Iranian Council put together a proposal called 6+1, basically saying that 5+1 isn't enough and that the discussions needed to include Iran -- that is the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany and Iran; are you in favor of that proposal?
DK: Yes and I'm in favor of recognizing Iran as having the potential for being a significant player in resolving many current security issues and working with the world community to achieve peace. There are many ways that that can be done, and you mentioned one of them; but it's not the only one. When we have direct talks with Iran that's where it all begins. Without direct talks with Iran 6+1 ends nowhere; but when we have direct talks with Iran, 6+1equals much more than seven!
HA: So the bottom line is, we need to talk directly! As the last question, do you wish to make a point, send a message, to the Iranian people, the Iranian government, and to AIC?
DK: There are many of us in the United States that understand the greatness of the Persian culture, of the great gift that the Persian culture has given to the world in the arts, in language, in literature, in music, in mathematics -- in so many areas of human endeavors. It's important for us to study the history of Iran, to learn about its richness, its diversity, to learn what makes up the character of the Iranian people. When we do that we will learn that what we have learned is wondrous, not fearful. To the Iranian Government I say that the US is a potential great ally and that it should work toward realizing the mutually beneficial partnership sooner rather than later. To the Council, I say work hard and thoughtfully as in the past many years and that one day soon we would proudly celebrate your dream of normal US-Iran relations!
HA: Congressman Kucinich, thank you for your sincere and open interview style and for taking the time from your very busy schedule to answer my questions. I hope to see you in Iran one day soon!
DK: Thank you! I do like to visit Iran and soon, and I am hoping that our discussion will bear fruit and soon as well.