‘There are other ways to respond’

About Iran’s nuclear program: Do you think it would be reasonable for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons as a means of defense, since it is virtually surrounded by the US military? My personal view, which is shared by the overwhelming majority of theologians, is this: Even if they attack us with nuclear weapons, Islam does not permit us to respond with nuclear weapons. The use of nuclear weapons would have enormous repercussions regarding the number of victims, the environment, the health of those who survive and the children yet to be born. Finally, it would mean a huge burden on the shoulders of the generations to come. Moreover, nuclear weapons cannot protect you from anything. If the people love and support the government and the regime, no weapon can overthrow it. The people are the best protection for any country and any government. I would also add that we are charged with the responsibility of stopping the enemy, of not provoking the enemy into attacking us, even with nuclear weapons. If we have that ability and do not do what we can to avert such a crime, we will be accomplices to that crime. If Muslims are attacked in that way, they can find ways to respond without using weapons of mass destruction. What ways are these? Any ways. First of all, the question is to take a stance that will persuade people that we are victims of an unjust attack and foreign oppression, so that the government that attacks us will lose any popular and international support. Islam is in favor of rational and cautious decisions. If governments have differences between them, let them resolve them in a way that does not harm people and the relations between peoples. Usually people do not identify with the disputes between their governments. Do you believe that the Ahmadinejad government is handling the nuclear program issue with the wisdom and caution you mentioned? Do the continual hostile statements against Israel help Iran? (The president) himself should answer that question. Regarding his letter to US President George W. Bush, a letter filled with religious references, many people have said that these are two ultra-conservative, religious presidents who should be able to reach an understanding. Do you agree? I do not want to comment on something that has already been the subject of much discussion. My view is that politicians should concern themselves with politics and leave issues of religion and morality to the prophets, the theologians and the thinkers. You are personally acquainted with the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, an Iranian of the imam Khomeini’s generation who studied at Qom. What is your impression of him and the role he plays today in Iraq? Of course I know him. I believe that he is doing good work for the benefit of Iraq and the establishment of its political system. All the different parties and groups approve of his actions and his decisions. Given the huge difficulties the Americans are having in Iraq and the influence of Iran on the Shi’ite majority, could Iraq be an arena for understanding being reached between Washington and Tehran? I am not in a position to comment on that question. I believe that relations between the US and Iraq are something that should be settled by the governments of those two countries and the leadership of Ayatollah al-Sistani. I would like to say, however, that those who overturned Saddam Hussein, the Americans and their allies, did a service to the Iraqi people by ending a tyranny. What happened after that and what is to happen from now on is another story. God and history will be the judge of whether they helped the Iraqi people, or whether they simply wanted to steal the country’s national wealth.