Natan Sharansky - Iran will bring on nuclear catastrophe to enter "paradise"

Natan Sharansky, photo: CTK

The eyes of the world's media may have shifted a few hundred kilometres north to the G8 Summit in Germany, but the Prague conference at which George W. Bush made his keynote speech continued into its second day on Wednesday. The Democracy and Security conference, held at the Czech Foreign Ministry, brought together dissidents from all over the world, from Belarus to Iran. We've been speaking to one of the conference's main organisers, Natan Sharansky.

Natan Sharansky,  photo: CTK
"The most powerful weapon in the struggle against extremism is not bullets or bombs - it is the universal appeal of freedom. Freedom is the design of our Maker, and the longing of every soul. Freedom is the best way to unleash the creativity and economic potential of a nation. Freedom is the only ordering of a society that leads to justice. And human freedom is the only way to achieve human rights."

U.S. President George W. Bush, addressing dissidents on Tuesday. The conference was partly organised by the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center, an Israeli think-tank based in Jerusalem. Among the speakers was the Institute's founding chairman Natan Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident, ardent Zionist and onetime Israeli deputy prime minister. Mr Sharansky's book "The Case for Democracy" is said to have had a major influence on Mr Bush and his foreign policy ideas. He told Radio Prague why the conference was important.

George W. Bush,  photo: CTK
"I think it's very important today to stress and emphasise that freedom and democracy is not only for that part of the world where it exists. It's for everybody. Nobody can remind the free world of this better than dissidents themselves - dissidents from Iran, from Iraq, from Libya, from Lebanon, from Syria, from Cuba, from North Korea, from China, from Russia, from Belarus. That's the first important result we expect from this conference - gathering democratic dissidents from totalitarian regimes who are saying democracy is for our country. The second important thing is that to strengthen these dissidents, it's very important that they have the ear of the free world. When I was a dissident in the Soviet Union, I dreamt of having a direct dialogue with the leaders of the free world. Here we - the former Czech president Vaclav Havel, the former Spanish prime minister Jose Aznar and myself - are giving this opportunity to democratic dissidents. And then the Prague Document, which we hope to approve and will be what dissidents expect from the free world, hopefully will become the call to action for democratic governments."

President Bush has spoken about plans to build a U.S. radar base in the Czech Republic as part of the U.S. missile defence shield. It's aimed at what the U.S. describes as "rogue states" such as Iran. Is Iran really a threat to Europe and the United States?

"As someone who was involved for ten years in the efforts of the Israeli government, to stop the leakage of Russian and western technology to Iran, I can say that as early as 1997 it has been clear that the number one threat to the free world is the development of nuclear weapons and missile systems in Iran. Our intelligence services were warning the free world in 1997 that we have ten years to stop it. It took three or four years for the CIA to agree with our estimations. It took even longer for intelligence services of the rest of the free world to agree. Today everybody knows, everybody who is in this field, knows how dangerous this threat is, and that is one more reason why it is important - urgently - to support the democratic opposition in Iran. Here at this conference we have some leaders of the student democratic movement in Iran and some others who were in prison, who fought for freedom and who know very well that the people of Iran want to live in freedom. Their main appeal to the free world is - understand that your real allies are the democratic opposition in Iran."

Right, but even if Iran does develop the capability to attack Europe or the United States, where's the motive? Why would Iran risk an attack which would mean the country's certain destruction?

"Well, the problem is not only in non-conventional weapons. The problem is in a non-conventional regime. The leaders of Iran today, it's not like communists in the Soviet Union, who wanted paradise in this world. They want paradise in the next world, and they're ready to take everyone with them to the next world - to their paradise."