Monday, February 07, 2005 - Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani asks U.S. goodwill - Iranian politician asks U.S. goodwill: "Iranian politician asks U.S. goodwill
By Barbara Slavin, USA TODAY
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran's former president and leading contender to return to power said Sunday that Iran and the United States have a common enemy in al-Qaeda and shared interests in Iraq. He urged the White House to unfreeze billions of dollars in Iranian assets as a sign of goodwill that could help end 25 years of U.S.-Iranian estrangement.

Unfreezing Iranian assets would be "the best positive sign" of U.S. goodwill towards Iran and initiating talks, Rafsanjani said.
By Behrouz Mehri, AFP

In his first interview with an American journalist since 1997, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, 71, said Iran was not concerned about tough statements from President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, which he called "nonsense." President from 1989 to 1997, Rafsanjani remains one of the country's most powerful figures and is expected to run again in June. (Related item: Text of Rafsanjani interview)

"The mere fact that I am sitting here talking to you is an indication that we have no differences with the American people," he said. "This would not happen with an Israeli journalist," a reference to even greater enmity between Iran and Israel.

Rafsanjani said Iraq's elections "have gone well," and stressed that al-Qaeda terrorists there "are our enemies, too. You are aware of what (they) have done to our friends in Iraq." Al-Qaeda has targeted Iraqi Shiites in bombings and assassinations. Like Iraq, Iran is a majority-Shiite nation.

The interview comes at a time of rising U.S.-Iranian tension over concerns that Iran is close to acquiring the ability to make nuclear weapons. In his State of the Union address last week, Bush suggested he would like to see Iranians overthrow their cleric-run government, saying "As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you." Rice, who is on her first overseas trip, called Iran's human rights record "something to be loathed" and warned Iran against developing nuclear weapons.

Asked about these comments, Rafsanjani said the United States "would not dare to attack us. ...We have got used to this nonsense. Miss Rice is a bit emotional. ... She talks tough but she cannot be tough herself." And he insisted that Iran has no use for a nuclear bomb. "We will never use such weapons, therefore they have no utility for us," he said.

Rafsanjani recalled that during the administration of the first President Bush, Iran helped free U.S. hostages in Lebanon after Bush promised that "goodwill begets goodwill." But he said the United States had never reciprocated. Unfreezing Iranian assets would be "the best positive sign" of U.S. goodwill, he said.

Rafsanjani estimated Iranian assets in the United States at at least $8 billion. U.S. estimates are smaller, and some of the funds — frozen when Iran held 52 U.S. embassy hostages — have been distributed to satisfy commercial claims. Some are also subject to litigation at the U.S.-Iran claims tribunal at the Hague."