Sanctions have been tightened but Iran’s Ambassador to Malta, Seyed Mohammad Ali Hosseini, tells Kurt Sansone his country has an inalienable right to develop nuclear power for civilian use.

It is a country with a rich history, a crossroads between West and East but the lingering image of Iran in the Western psyche is that of a pariah state championing an unsettling brand of conservative Islam.

What lasts are the good relations between peoples

The image is reinforced by the Western media’s constant reference to Iran’s ambition to develop nuclear weapons, which stokes fears of a radical Islamic state hostile to the West’s way of life.

But none of this imagery is visible when speaking to Mr Hosseini, Iran’s Ambassador to Italy who is accredited to Malta.

Soft-spoken, Mr Hosseini was in Malta seeking to boost bilateral relations.

Talking in Persian from his Paceville hotel room on the eighth floor overlooking the sea, Mr Hosseini exudes an optimism that is hard to digest, given the sanctions imposed on his country by the international community.

The interview is done with the help of a woman translator, who politely snubs a handshake. “I cannot shake your hands,” she says with a low voice. It is Iranian custom that women and men should not shake hands or have physical contact in public.

It is an innocuous incident at the end of the interview but one that highlights the cultural differences that cause misconception and, possibly, concern in Western societies.

But, like other Iranian diplomats, Mr Hosseini’s attempt to foster better cultural and economic relations that can blow away misconceptions is derailed by the confrontation over his country’s nuclear programme.

He says the predicament Iran faces is a result of “unjust and illegal” decisions taken by some countries, and insists this will not last.

“What lasts are the good relations between peoples,” he adds.

The UN-imposed sanctions are linked to Iran’s civilian nuclear programme, which the US and its allies fear is being used to develop weapons.

Sanctions were tightened recently by the US and the EU after the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in its latest report that Iran had carried out tests related to “development of a nuclear device”.

Mr Hosseini insists the sanctions are intended solely to harm the Iranian people, and affirms his country’s right to pursue a civilian nuclear programme.

“Iran has the legitimate and inalienable right to have nuclear power purely for civilian use,” he says.

Mr Hosseini feels betrayed by the nuclear agency’s latest report because, he claims, it relies on research supposedly conducted by the US.

He explains that in all its years of surveillance the IAEA had installed secure CCTV cameras at all nuclear sites and carried out unannounced inspections.

“All the controls are in place and inspections never revealed anything unbecoming. Iran never refused additional controls or inspections,” he notes.

He accuses the IAEA of not presenting proof to substantiate its latest statements and, in a bitter tone, Mr Hosseini insists the documentation presented has no “technical and legal value”.

“When one reads all the text, serious doubts are raised about its soundness because the communication uses words like ‘maybe’ and ‘could be possible’. Can important documents that are used to harm a nation resort to such uncertain language? Why did the IAEA base its conclusions on presumed studies without proof?”

Sanctions have brought out the Iranian people’s resourcefulness

Mr Hosseini says Iran has had good relations with the agency and is also a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, whose objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology.

He laments the different attitude adopted with Israel, which officially denies having nuclear weapons but is widely believed to possess them.

“Israel has never allowed inspectors to visit and is not even part of the treaty and, yet, it has nuclear weapons and the IAEA never did anything about it,” he complains, adding this is tantamount to discrimination.

Sanctions have brought out the Iranian people’s resourcefulness, he points out, by transforming the difficult situation into an opportunity for growth and progress.

He lauds Iranian scientific researchers who are taking the civilian nuclear programme forward and the oil workers who have beaten the restrictions on oil sales by modernising the refineries to create distilled fuels for use in the domestic market.

“We have also used internal resources to launch the very first Iranian satellite, and Iran is trying to diversify its economy to be less dependent on oil,” he says with a sense of pride.

It is this yearning for a diversified economy that brings Mr Hosseini to Malta.

He wants to see tourism opportunities opening up both ways and more business links between both countries.

There are opportunities, he says, that can be exploited but quickly acknowledges that the most significant business link with Malta, the Iranian national shipping line that calls at the Freeport, has experienced some difficulties because of the sanctions.

Iran has good economic relations with other EU member states such as Germany, France, Italy, Portugal and Greece, he adds, and Malta can develop similar ties.

It will take more than words and an optimistic attitude to change the negative picture of Iran that has been painted by all involved, not least the Iranian leadership that has many times resorted to provocative statements.

But Mr Hosseini retains his positive outlook, even if it may seem misplaced.

“Not much credit should be given to the propaganda that seeks to paint a negative picture of Iran-EU relations,” he says, auguring that relations with Malta will flourish.

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