Opinion article by Farzaneh Roostaee (journalist and writer); source: Rooz Online
Iranian President Hassan Rohani has nominated Mohammad Javad Zarif as his Foreign Minister
Zarif was born on 8 January 1960 in Elahieh, Tehran. Zarif attended the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver and obtained a Ph.D. in international law and policy. He also attended San Francisco State University as a graduate student at the Department of International Relations.
As a diplomat and politician, Zarif has held various significant diplomatic and cabinet posts. He was notably Ambassador of Iran to the United Nations from August 2002 to July 2007
Photo: Cover of a recently published book (in Persian):
"Mr. Ambassador - Conversation with Mohammad Javad Zarif"
Mohammad Javad Zarif is among the few Iranian foreign ministry specialists who have both diplomatic experience and an education in international affairs. The US State Department knows him and he was a permanent member of 9 rounds of the international conference on the creation of the post-Taliban government in Afghanistan and the future direction of the country. He knows how to negotiate better than any mid-level slogan-obsessed Iranian diplomat just as he knows how to bargain better. And because of his relations with the supreme leader of the Islamic regime, he is more likely to deliver more tangible results. The joke is that he has been in US diplomatic and political circles for so long that he may be planning to run for an office in the US.
Today, Iran’s broken foreign policy has been entrusted to Zarif so that he may, if possible, salvage the country’s foreign relations from their free downfall. I say “if possible” because taking Iran’s foreign relations out of its current situation caused by four UN Security Council resolutions, something that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad played a key role, is almost impossible. Zarif’s task appears more like reversing everything that has taken place against Iran in the last four years by pushing all these events up through a funnel from its narrow end.
Last week, Zarif announced his plan for transforming Iran’s Foreign Ministry. The plan looks more like a scheme to recreate the foreign ministry from scratch after a full scale war and destruction rather than a program to reform a ministry that actually did have a cabinet level minister. The main headings of the plan are what would normally appear in such a document and just like a college course for first year students in political science, it begins by providing definitions for foreign policy. Then, it lists very general policies for the future, all of which can have multiple interpretations.
He stresses that the meaning of power has changed in today’s world. It has moved away from focusing on military might to the rise of the importance of other aspects of power such as culture along with its other elements in the realm of economics, force, technology, soft power, the influence of the players etc. He then concludes that because of this shift, the environment is now open for regional players, including Iran in an unprecedented way. But what he does not mention whether all the players in the formulation and implementation of Iran’s foreign relations have a similar view of the new atmosphere or that each domestic player has its own interpretation of the new realities, thus pulling events in its own direction.
In his plan, Zarif stresses voluntary isolationism is a thing of the past in international relations. The absence of a state in the region or internationally is no longer a virtue but more of a weakness. The result is a drive towards group action and multilateralism.
Despite its efforts to present a modern plan for Iran’s foreign ministry, the plan says that, “The international message of religious democracy and its global role that have been defined in Iran’s constitution have created an influential identify for Iran which allow it to expand its presence and influence beyond that of a middle and regional power.” But it appears that despite his knowledge and experience of the region, Mr. Zarif seems to have forgotten that one of the reasons for the recent people’s uprisings in the Middle East has been their fear of falling into the same mess that now befalls Iran. Mr. Zarif and his colleagues probably know that disgust with America and distancing from models that produce monolithic regimes, such as that in Iran, are important issues that protestors in Egypt and Turkey have been stressing. Zarif and co are probably aware that one of the causes of the fall of Mohammad Morsi’s government in Egypt, and the social unrest that had taken over the country, is because of public rejection of those policies that would bring about the same fate to Egypt that has befallen on Iran today.
Despite the emphasis that is placed on reason, common wisdom, initiative, resistance, defense of national values, peace, justice, sincerity et all in foreign affairs, in Zarif’s plan his reference to religious democracy is a step away from the scientific field of international relations and reminds one of the slogans that former foreign ministers aired in the past and are more suitable for Friday congregation prayer events where participants are agitated to demonstrate in support of some foreign event and ultimately make the headlines in the evening news. It is of course possible that Zarif has his own restrictions or may be even game that only time will tell.
Zarif’s plan to pull Iran out of the nuclear quagmire stresses that the “gradual and wise resolution of the nuclear issue requires domestic consensus building based on a common understanding, transparency in the conditions and expectations, clear description of goals, agreement on possible achievements, agreement on acceptable costs, and an agreement on a realistic schedule.” In short, Zarif’s plan seems to imply that nobody at the moment knows exactly what is going on in the nuclear or missile development programs or what are its final and ultimate goals. The purpose of the plan seems to be first to become knowledgeable in the current status of these programs outside the Friday prayer sloganeering and then understand what the next phases of the plans. Regarding who knows and how many people know these details in Iran, including who are the theoreticians working under whose guidance are sensitive issues.
The wording that Zarif uses in his plan to describe the issue of managing the nuclear talks is very carefully chosen, but they are also ambiguous. The words imply that perhaps only less than a handful of people know exactly what the status of these programs is or that each individual only knows some parts of the whole program. And just as Rowhani himself had said earlier that centrifuges must spin along with the lives of people, meaning that centrifuges should not stop people from their lives, Zarif’s plan too talks of a cost-analysis approach. The ambiguous questions foremost raise the question of what is more important in the country that the future of Iran, or that does it make sense to pursue instruments that may provide greater security at the cost of actually destroying the country.
Regarding the management of talks with the US, the plan stresses such concepts as “containing the crisis, preventing unnecessary tensions in the relations between the two countries, a realistic identification of the goals, mutual concerns and policies, and taking the initiative away from the US.” To fulfill the road map that Zarif’s plan envisions, the management of talks with the US must be shifted from the office of the supreme leader and the Ghods IRGC force to the foreign ministry. At the same time, he must ensure that such protracted talks are not sabotaged by the occasional speeches and remarks by the supreme leader.
In addition to the above, Mr. Rowhani and Mr. Zarif both need to redefine the authority, budget and special resources that the Ghods force, external partners, and the foreign operations machinery of the ministry of intelligence. It is also necessary to fill the foreign posts of Iranian embassies and legations with foreign ministry cadres rather than those from the military and ministry of intelligence. The heavy presence and influence of IRGC and ministry of intelligence cadres in Iranian embassies abroad during the last eight years has brought about catastrophes that have disgraced Iranians across the globe.
If Zarif is really to take the helm of Iran’s foreign ministry, then it is also probably necessary to first define who are the country’s friends, allies and rivals in foreign affairs. If Zarif is smart - something we shall soon find out - there is no need for Iran to define its enemies in the context of its long term strategies. In today’s world, everybody is trying to benefit from each other. Identifying who the foreign enemy of a country is is a remnant of the days of the cold war. Today countries avoid such terminology altogether and all efforts are made to use all available resources and possibilities around the globe and use negotiations and deals to resolve issues so as to avoid getting caught in situations that unnecessarily deplete their resources.
Looking at foreign policy through the eyes of “enemies,” something that has been unfortunately going on for the last 33 years in Iran, is the most serious error in Iran’s foreign policy which has caused irreparable damage to the country. Today, with the total isolation of the country, the Iranian people are witnessing the fruits of this regressive approach of defining countries as friends or enemies.
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