It is the first time that an official of the Islamic republic of Iran has expressly used language that criticizes the earlier foreign policy of the country. At the ceremony introducing Mohammad Javad Zarif (Zarif in Persian means delicate) as the new foreign minister to the staff of the foreign ministry, president Hassan Rowhani laid out the general contours of the country’s foreign policy in language that were compatible with international standards. So fresh and different were his remarks that it was difficult to believe them. Questions keep popping up from the 34-year record of Iran’s international behavior. One question dominates: The foreign ministry of the Islamic republic is operationally under the supreme leader’s control and it is he who determines the foreign policy direction. So is this change that we are hearing the desire and decision of the supreme leader, and others who are advising him?
From left: Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salhi, Iranian President Hassan Rohani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
It appears that a major shift has taken place, even though very late. The need for change has been recognized at the higher echelons of power. Coming at this level, the message brings hope. We well know the legal and actual power structure in the Islamic republic and just as the designation of Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi to lead the ministry of justice brought forth anger from various quarters, Mohammad Zarif’s appointment to the foreign ministry and the transfer of Salehi to direct the nuclear policy in the standoff with the West have translated into reason and hope. These two appointments can make a difference in a country where foreign policy can mean death or surrender. Perhaps the repeated reminders of Zarif’s role in the passage of the UN Security Council Resolution no 598 (that ended the 8-year war between Iran and Iraq in the late 1980s) is actually a definitive sign of change that Iran deeply needs. This is a change that does not bring forth to mind the chalice of poison (that ayatollah Khomeini referenced when accepting the UNSC resolution) but indicates an understanding of a belated reality.
But will that power group that views its survival in the further deepening of the nuclear crisis, among other failures of Iranians, allow the foreign policy apparatus of the country to do its job? Placing Zarif at the foreign ministry, using Salehi’s experience in the nuclear standoff in recent years, and Rowhani’s clear rejection of the earlier rhetoric, and sloganeering and emphasis that people are dissatisfied with the direction of the foreign policy, have created a new set of concepts that can help guide Iran move through the dangerous and sharp precipice it is facing today. But despite its capabilities, the task before this team is tough. From an international perspective it is difficult or even impossible to imagine that Iran’s true enemies who are well-placed inside the regime will actually stop the new “delicate” (Zarif’s name) game. They have for many years jumped on the bandwagon and derailed and destroyed the chess game through hooliganism and mob rule. They still control many centers such as Kayhan newspaper. It will be a miracle if these real and domestic enemies do not confront and challenge the new team. Even if they are told by the highest authorities to not disrupt and end their destructive activities, it is doubtful that they or their followers will stop their meddling and disruptions in the work of the government. In the Islamic republic, there are many affiliated groups who have enjoyed the freedom to act as they wish and destroy the public peace and security. They have in fact become addicted to their ways of doing things, especially on issues related to foreign policy and international relations. They view acting on their instincts as their duty. Rowhani’s foreign and nuclear policy team will not be immune to their attacks. After all, have these groups been disarmed?
These groups and their members will appear from nowhere and will react and respond negatively to Rowhani’s message that people are dissatisfied with the foreign policy of the country. Generally, to listen to people’s calls and requests is a crime for them. They have at their disposal a list of slogans that they will unleash if the smallest progress is made at the international talks over the nuclear issue. Their traditional cooperation with the judiciary is a dangerous tool at their disposal. With Pour-Mohammadi at the vicinity of the judiciary, this cooperation becomes even more dangerous and creates the potential for succeeding in disrupting the new team’s goals. By extensively violating people’s rights, they will not allow for the creation of a civil and legal atmosphere in which people will be able to pass their messages to the rulers. Had such a coalition between the judiciary and the groups not existed, it would not have taken this long for the rulers to hear the people’s calls. It has now been a long time that people have been whispering their views, problems and calls, but their voices are not heard. So long as there is Kayhan newspaper with its current managers, along with its affiliates, people’s voices will not be communicated or heard. If it had been heard, Iran would not be where it is today. In fact, Zarif too would not have been recalled from the UN 7 years ago and pushed out of the nuclear policy group.
With Pour-Mohammadi sitting next to Javad and Sadegh Larijani, is there hope that people’s hopes and calls in domestic and foreign policy spheres will be implemented? Can one have hope in Rowhani’s wise remarks? The answer would be a yes if people like Ahmad Zeidabadi who conveyed and protected the people’s calls, were released from prison. And more importantly, people like Pour-Mohammadi were not placed in decision-making positions.
Domestic and foreign policy are intertwined. A journalist is the voice of the people, and in its absence governments become so corrupt and deaf that instability and collapse eventually take over. People helped bring to the front a new face from inside this very regime. He now echoes their calls.
Despite all this, Rowhani’s foreign policy team is both capable and knowledgeable. If issues and obstacles pop up in the course of implementing the new agenda, it is because the ignorant and professional murderers have entered Rowhani’s team, thus strengthening the oppressive elements who aim to suppress the message of the nation.
About the author:
Mehrangiz Kar is a prominent Iranian lawyer, human rights activist and author of the book Crossing the Red Line: The Struggle for Human Rights in Iran, as well as many articles.
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