done his best. What more can I do?”
But my superiors insisted. I said, “OK, I
will go, but on condition that my counter-
part also participates.” They said, “Who is
your counterpart?” I said, “The secretary
of the DOE [Department of Energy].”
Our side contacted [chief U.S. negotia-
tor] Wendy Sherman, saying “Look, we
are intending to bring Mr. Salehi with us.
But on condition that the DOE secretary
also joins.” After a few hours, Sherman
responded and said, “We welcome this
and we’ll bring along Secretary Moniz.”
[laughs] And when I heard the news that
he’s coming, I said, “OK, I will go.” [A DOE
spokesperson confirmed Salehi’s account.]
I thought I was going on a mission
impossible. I’m so happy that the final
outcome made all of us happy. Yes, we
have some constraints, but what are those
constraints? From the American perspec-
tive, they are to prevent us from diverting
to nonpeaceful activities. But then we
never ever had this idea of diverting to
Q: You’re said to have a close relationship with
the supreme leader, Seyyed Ali Khamenei.
A: Well, I wouldn’t say we have a special
relationship, but the supreme leader knows
me because I have been in different government responsibilities since the revolution
started. I was chancellor of a university. I
was deputy minister of higher education two
times. I’m happy that the supreme leader,
yes, has put his trust in me.
Q: One of the most contentious issues in the
negotiations was R&D on advanced centrifuges. From your perspective, what was hard
A: When you are negotiating, each party is
trying its best to have the bigger piece of
the cake. That’s very natural. The Americans
said, “If there’s no research on centrifuges,
we will be very happy.” We said, “We would
not be happy. We understand you have some
concerns. Let’s see how we can mitigate
them.” Neither side got the ideal it was looking for. We met in the middle.
Q: Your program is slowed.
A: Yeah. If we were free, probably within
8 years we could have come up with a
cascade of 164 [advanced IR8 centrifuges].
That is not a big constraint for us, but that
pleases the other side so we said, “OK.” It
could have been better, of course, if we had
a bigger cascade because then even the
process of enrichment would have been
assessed, not only the mechanical characteristics of the machines.
We do not take that as a constraint. So I
would say on R&D, the apparent limitations
that we have accepted, that we have agreed
to, it’s not really a limitation.
Q: So there’s nothing in particular in the
sphere of R&D that you consider a huge
sacrifice for the sake of the pact?
A: I don’t think so. We would be working
on different advanced machines. We would
be working on the IR8, on the IR6. The IR8
and IR6 are the two candidates that could
really meet our needs in terms of producing
enough enrichment capacity to meet the
annual needs of [the Bushehr power reac-tor]. And 10 years from now, we will have
two other nuclear power reactors. But using
[the permitted] centrifuges, in 15 years
we will be in a position to meet the fuel
requirements of these reactors.
Q: U.S. negotiators were concerned about
other forms of enrichment, like laser enrichment. Was Iran pursuing these?
A: No. We did some laser enrichment
in the past. We informed the IAEA [In-ternational Atomic Energy Agency] and
dismantled the equipment.
Q: Siegfried Hecker, the former director of
Los Alamos National Laboratory, told me he
was surprised Iran would agree to a blanket
prohibition on studying metallic uranium
and plutonium, because there are other
uses for these, not just for weapons.
A: Yes. We had a lengthy discussion on
that in the negotiations. Depleted uranium
metal can be used as shielding, for exam-
ple. I insisted that we would have to make
an exception for depleted uranium. Then
the other side said, “Look, we need to tell
our officials that we have blocked all the
pathways to weapons production. And one
of the pathways is metal production.”
I finally accepted that. We do not intend
to enrich uranium to 90%, so we will
not have 90% enriched uranium to turn
into metal. We said that if we need some
depleted uranium, we may ask for it from
[the P5+1] during this period. But we will
not produce the metal. We did [produce]
plutonium. And we told the IAEA, that’s it.
That was in 2003.
Q: As part of the agreement, the Fordow
enrichment facility will be turned into an
international research center. What do you
have in mind?
A: It’s very difficult to say offhand. I would
have to discuss it with my colleagues and
with colleagues from the P5+1.
Q: You’ve already hosted Russian scientists.
They’re going to help modify the uranium
centrifuges to produce stable isotopes for
A: That is for sure. Fordow has two wings.
Part of one wing will be dedicated to
stable isotopes. That is already agreed
Q: Fordow is a military site. Is the military
going to easily relinquish it?
A: It’s not controlled by the military.
Decades ago, it was a place where the
military stored ammunition.
Q: The nuclear agreement calls for increased Iranian participation in ITER, the
international fusion experiment. Does Iran
have a fusion research program?
A: Yes. Near where you’re sitting, we have
three tokamaks. We are one of the leading countries in West Asia working on
fusion. This is my second time heading
the Atomic Energy Organization. In my
previous appointment, I made fusion our
essential goal. It was given our highest
priority because fusion is the future source
Q: AEOI went through some very dark days a
few years ago, when five nuclear scientists
were assassinated. Do their deaths cast a
shadow on international collaboration?
A: No. We have a very peculiar characteristic of our nation. Being Muslims, we are
ready for any kind of destiny because we
do not look upon it like you have lost your
life. OK, but you have gained martyrdom
and we believe in eternity.
For our people, it’s easy to absorb such
things. I mean, this did not really turn
into an impediment to our nuclear activities. In fact it gave an impetus to the field,
in the sense that after [the assassinations],
many students who were studying in other
fields changed to nuclear science.
Q: What do you want to be remembered for?
A: As a person who did good for mankind.
That’s it. ■