Abbas Ali Hadji Parvane: In the name of Allah! Mr President, we are very grateful to you for finding the time to give us this interview in spite of your busy schedule and to answer our questions on Russia’s international position and bilateral relations between Russia and Iran. As we do not have much time, can we begin straight away with the questions?
Vladimir Putin: Of course.
Question: Iran and Russia are two friendly neighbours that have many opportunities for developing their cooperation. How do you assess the current state of bilateral relations and what kind of prospects do you see ahead?
Vladimir Putin: Russia and Iran are indeed friendly neighbours. Our peoples are the bearers of ancient cultures that have interacted with each other over the course of centuries. We have a longstanding tradition of building good-neighbourly relations.
Cooperation between Iran and Russia has great importance for the region and the world, but this is not the only thing that determines the nature of our relations. It is also the interest of partners in both countries in developing trade and economic ties, supporting humanitarian cooperation and settling a number of problems regarding the Caspian region and the Caspian Sea that help to shape our relations. Indeed, we have gathered here in Tehran today precisely to work on problems related to the Caspian.
Bilateral trade between our countries is growing and has now reached a figure of around $2 billion. Promising new areas of cooperation are emerging such as space, civil aviation and infrastructure, including major infrastructure projects such as developing the North-South transport corridor. Today, as you saw, a relevant agreement was signed between three parties – Iran, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan – opening up the possibility of then joining up with the Russian railway network. In other words, our cooperation is developing in positive fashion in practically all areas. Of course, cooperation in the energy sector is one of the most visible areas in which we work together. This covers not only nuclear energy but also hydrocarbons. Iran and Russia are two of the world’s biggest exporters and our actions have a considerable impact on world markets and the state of the world economy. We are aware of our responsibilities before our partners, whether in the oil and gas or the electricity sectors. Today, for example, the President of Azerbaijan proposed examining the possibility of unifying our countries’ electricity systems, unifying the systems of three countries so as to make electricity flows as effective as possible at different times of the year. Here in Iran, for example, your electricity consumption goes up in summer because you are using air conditioners, while in Russia electricity consumption goes up in winter. We already have this kind of cooperation with other countries.
Finally, there is nuclear energy and the well known matter of the nuclear power plant in Bushehr. I am sure that the plant will be completed and that we will be able to outline plans for our future cooperation. Overall, I think that our work together is positive.
Question: Mr President, what proposals do you have for ensuring security and stability in the Caspian region, Central Asia and the Trans-Caucasus? What bilateral and regional decisions do you consider essential for preventing the rise of tension in the region, especially given NATO’s eastward expansion and the plans to install missile defence systems in European countries?
Vladimir Putin: One could write an entire dissertation in answer to your question because it is very wide-ranging, but I will try to be brief.
As far as Central Asia goes, we know the complexity of the situation there and we know the difficulties encountered over recent years. I think I would not be mistaken in saying that both Russia and Iran have made a substantial contribution towards normalising the situation in Central Asia, and we continue to work in this direction. Iran has done a lot to help settle the situation in Tajikistan, and so has Russia. This is really a unique situation in the post-Soviet area and I think quite a rare situation in the world when not only have bitterly opposed parties sat down at the negotiation table but, in the interests of their people and their country’s future, have succeeded in joining forces within a united government and are working together quite well now to achieve their common goals.
Iran and Russia both pay great attention to normalising the situation in Afghanistan. What we want is for the Afghan people, who have suffered so much, to be able to live a normal and peaceful life and rebuild their country. We want the bloodshed in Afghanistan to end and we want to see the ultimate withdrawal of foreign troops from the country once the Afghan people are able to take full responsibility for security in their country. Both Iran and Russia have already carried out much work in this direction earlier, and we continue to cooperate today, and to cooperate well. I am sure that we will continue to make a needed contribution in the future.
Regarding the Trans-Caucasus, there have been quite a few problems there inherited from the Soviet years. These are complex problems that require not just a lot of attention from the international community and international organisations, but also political will on the part of all those directly involved in the conflicts. This concerns above all Nagorny Karabakh and the relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Russia has done much to help the parties find an acceptable solution. We work bilaterally and take part in multilateral efforts. There is, for example, the Minsk Group, in which not only Russia takes part but also our Western European partners and the United States. We will continue these efforts.
Regarding NATO’s eastward expansion, we consider this as very negative. It is our view that today’s threats, and chief among them is international terrorism, cannot be dealt with by expanding a military-political organisation that was originally set up to counteract the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union. There is no Soviet Union and no Warsaw Pact today, while NATO not only exists but is expanding. We have not seen any signs of rapid change in thinking within NATO itself, within its structure. There has been a lot of talk of change, but we have yet to see real change. We are particularly concerned about military infrastructure coming closer to our borders. We think this is simply harmful and that it does not help to build a climate of trust in Europe and the world. Modern threats such as terrorism, drugs trafficking and organised crime cannot be resolved by organisations such as this. We can only address these threats through modern means such as building up trust and cooperation on a multilateral and not bloc basis.
And the final part of your question – the missile defence system: you know that the dialogue has proven complex, above all with our American partners but also with our European partners. We think that if some kind of missile defence system is developed it should be based on several components and should be something that we do together. What are the components involved? First, we need to identify the missile threats. There is not at present sufficiently conclusive evidence about exactly where these threats will come from. In any case, we do not have such evidence today, and if someone does have it, they should make it known.
Second, we need to ensure democratic access to this system. All countries taking part in this work should have the clear understanding that they will also take part in running this system.
Third, we need to agree on the actual procedures for working together and running the system. Only once we have settled these issues can work on such a system go ahead, in our view. But I must say that our latest meetings with our American partners show that it is possible for their views on this matter to undergo a certain transformation, and we will continue the dialogue.
Question: You said that one of the most important technical cooperation projects between Russia and Iran at the moment is the construction of the nuclear power plant in Bushehr. This is the project that has been most in the news and there has been a lot of talk about it.
The construction process has been much delayed, unfortunately. The Iranian public and especially the country’s elite are very concerned about the fate of this project, which is seen in Iran as a symbol of our bilateral cooperation with Russia.
Many people here would like to hear your comments on this project. As President of Russia, can you promise that by the time your term in office ends this project will have got underway once more and that the delivery of nuclear fuel to the plant – the most important stage before actually bringing the plant on line – takes place?
Vladimir Putin: The only promises I have given were to my mother when I was a little boy. What I can say is that the attitude of the elite, whether in Russia or Iran, towards cooperation is very important, of course, but I think it is even more important to make known to the general public in our countries what exactly is happening with the Bushehr project. I will take this opportunity to try to give a brief account of this situation now.
I draw your attention to the fact that no other country was willing to take on this contract. What’s more, the German partners who began work on the project several decades ago subsequently abandoned it. The fact that the work was begun by one group and then continued by Russian organisations has in itself complicated the situation from the outset, not so much from a political as from a technical point of view. Originally, German equipment was used in the project, and it is still there now, but it has become obsolete since that time. This equipment dates from 20 or 30 years ago. But this is not where the difficulty lies. The real difficulty is in the contract itself, in the legal arrangements made for this deal.
There is another circumstance that has complicated this work, and that is that Iran, during the work on building the Bushehr nuclear power plant, signed agreements not only with Russian partners but also with partners in other countries, in the Republic of Korea, for example, who have refused to deliver the equipment promised by the contracts they signed. This has created additional problems and has meant that we have had to find replacement equipment for the equipment not delivered.
All of this together plus a number of other circumstances have, of course, led to delays in the work schedule. But at the same time, Russia did make it clear from the outset that not only would it sign the contract but it would also see the project through to its completion, and we will not go back on these commitments.
As for the delivery of fuel for the power plant, in accordance with IAEA regulations, fuel can only be delivered to the facility a few months before the nuclear reactor begins operation. We first have to have a clear understanding of when exactly this will take place. But we are not backing down from any of our commitments and have no intention of doing so, all the more so as we have already signed an agreement with our Iranian partners under which the spent fuel will be returned to the Russian Federation. We are fully satisfied with this agreement.
Now, turning to the question of what needs to be done in order to speed up the work, Russian and Iranian specialists are discussing right now possible amendments to our contractual obligations. Overall, our Iranian partners agree that such amendments are necessary given that the contract has become outdated and we need to understand clearly what to do about the fact that we have old equipment alongside the new technology that the Russian subcontractors are using today, and what we are going to do to settle several financial and legal issues. Overall, an understanding has been reached. As soon as these issues are resolved, we will be able to settle the matter of delivering the fuel.
Question: The world has lived through fundamental changes in politics and security over the last 20 years. Russia has tried to use this constantly shifting situation to restore its weight and influence in the region and the world, while the United States, in carrying out a unilateral policy, especially with regard to Afghanistan and Iraq, has created serious challenges for peace and security.
In the current situation, what decisions and mechanisms can Russia propose, as an influential power, to counteract the American unilateral approach and help to restore peace and tranquillity around the world?
Vladimir Putin: The answer is very simple. As you know, we support a multipolar world and I personally am deeply convinced that even if someone wanted to see a world based on unilateral power, this model has already proven that it does not work and that it cannot actually be implemented in practice.
No single world power, not even the biggest power, can resolve all of the world’s problems on its own. No single power has the financial, economic, general material and political resources to do so. This has become clear today. The examples you gave, Afghanistan and Iraq, are clear illustrations.
And what do we propose instead? Every new idea is really just old ideas we had already forgotten. What we propose is to strengthen the role and importance of the universal international organisation that is the United Nations, to strengthen the role and importance of international law, to observe strictly the principles of international law and state sovereignty and to strive for consensus in our decisions. This is complex and difficult work, but it is only through this work that we can achieve long-term results and ensure stability in world politics.
Question: If you permit, I would like to ask a personal question. So far, all the questions have been about politics, and I would like to ask a question that is not related to politics.
Over these last few years you have succeeded in taking important steps that have changed Russia’s position in the world, and here in Iran you are received well and are a popular figure. Iranians would like to hear about the President of Russia from the President himself. We know here that you still keep up your sports activities, and we also know that you are interested in Persian literature, especially in the poetry of Omar Khayam. In this respect, could you please tell us what role sport plays in your working life, how you fit it in to your life, and what kind of influence does it have?
And also, could you tell us what you think of Omar Khayam’s poetry?
Vladimir Putin: I will start with the second question. I do not consider myself an expert on Persian literature, to my great regret. I have only fragmentary knowledge of Persian literature, but what I have read and heard has always interested me greatly. The same goes for Iranian history. This is part of the world’s history. Iran is a world power. Its territory originally stretched from the Middle East to India. Even part of the former Soviet Union was part of ancient Iran’s territory. Iran is the home of early religions, of Zoroastrianism, and some specialists think that this was the source from which Judaism, Christianity and Islam would later spring. But now there is evidence suggesting that Zoroastrianism first emerged on Russian soil – in the southern Urals – and that population migrations took this religious culture to other places, including to Iran.
What I want to say is that the history of our countries and the interaction between our cultures goes much deeper and has much deeper roots than specialists sometimes think. This is the guarantee that we will always find a way of solving any problems that arise, because we understand each other.
As for Omar Khayam, I simply love his work, I like his poetry. I know that not everywhere in the Muslim world do people like his work as much as I do, but that does not make his poetry any worse.
Regarding sport, I have never really thought about the role it plays in my life, I simply play sport.
Question: Mr President, I would like to hear your thoughts on how you see your own future in Russia, in your country’s life. There are rumours that once your term in office ends you will return to this post after a little while. There are also rumours that you will take the post of Prime Minister. Could you comment on this please?
Vladimir Putin: You are right in saying that these are only rumours. Russia has a constitution, and I value this constitution and believe that we must abide by the letter and by the spirit of this, the fundamental law of our country. The Constitution does not allow a president more than two consecutive terms in office. In theory, one could run for office again later, after a term or more has gone by. But life in the world in general and in Russia in particular is changing very fast. It is difficult to say what the situation will be in a few years time. I do not want to try looking ahead at this moment. As for what I want for myself, I would like to be in a position where I will be able to be of service to the people of Russia.
Abbas Ali Hadji Parvane: Thank you very much, Mr President, for giving us this opportunity, and we hope that you will visit Iran again.
Vladimir Putin: I would like to thank you for the interest you have shown in my visit and for your interesting questions, and I would like to take this opportunity to give my very best wishes to every Iranian home, every Iranian family and every citizen of your country.
Thank you very much.