Interview with Mohammad Farhad Koleini,
Senior Analyst of Strategic Issues
Source: Iranian Diplomacy (IRD);
translated By: Iran Review.Org
Signs of change in Iran's foreign policy
Headline on cover of Iranian newspaper Etemaad says: "World is waiting for the New York event"
(referring to the possibility of Obama-Rohani meeting)
The remarks made by the Leader of Iran [Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei] in his last week meeting with the senior commanders of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and his emphasis that he believes in “heroic flexibility” in diplomacy have reverberated far and wide in the Western media. Many analysts reached the hasty conclusion that the Leader’s remarks, which were made on the verge of the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s trip to New York, were a sign that the Leader actually supports the foreign policy approach of the new government which has been defined on the basis of interaction with the rest of the world. Now, has there been any real change in Iran's foreign policy strategy? This question has been put forth in the following interview with Mohammad Farhad Koleini a senior analyst of strategic issues. The full text of the interview follows.
Q: The Leader of the Islamic Revolution made a mention of heroic flexibility in diplomacy in his latest remarks. On the other hand, the Leader’s statements coincided with the first trip by the Iranian president to New York to take part in the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly. We also see that the conditions in Iran's interaction with the Western countries, especially the United States, are changing. What is your opinion about this whole new state of affairs?
A: The heroic flexibility and the Leader’s renewed reference to this concept are quite remarkable. Following the [11th] presidential polls [in Iran], which served as further proof to the success of the religious democracy - or shall we say, the revolutionary democracy - in the country, and during the past six months, we have seen great activity aimed at creating new opportunities and taking new initiatives in Iran's diplomacy. The new Iranian foreign policy team has been actively taking measures in various fields in order to manage threats posed to Syria; make way for a new round of nuclear talks; review Iran's relations with the neighboring countries, especially with Saudi Arabia; continue constructive interactions with China and Russia; change the circumstances surrounding Iran's relations with European countries, especially the UK and France; and also test new ways for changing the United States attitude toward Iran. Obviously, such policies are being developed within framework of a national consensus and the announcement of the new policy of heroic flexibility is, in fact, combined with a parallel emphasis on the need to protect the country’s dignity and honor in foreign policy. It also underlines the need to bolster Iran's foreign policy tactics within framework of equal interaction with rival countries.
The bilateral exchange of letters and missives in this period has been sped up, assessments have been updated, and through consultations that have been so far carried out, a new period of transition is under way to further bolster the role of the country’s diplomatic apparatus. Since president Rouhani is in tune with the Supreme Leader in this regard, the true meaning of heroic flexibility is actually to create a new opportunity so that the West will have time to correct its assessment of Iran and gain a suitable understanding in order to start to build confidence with Iran.
The constructive interaction which has been stipulated by large-scale official instruments of Iran is currently in gear. However, this does not mean that Iran is following a one-way policy, but the interaction with the West is going to be a two-way street. Any kind of interaction between the two sides is, therefore, going to be based on mutual respect and trust as well as respect for the rights of the Iranian nation in order to provide suitable conditions for both sides.
Q: During the past few days, the general atmosphere governing the Western media has seen a tangible change. It seems that they are gradually providing grounds in the American public opinion for something to happen. Since this issue coincides with the Iranian president’s trip to the United States, can it actually lead to a turning point in relations between Iran and the United States?
A: Unfortunately, a certain number of political currents have marred the international image and standing of Iran in recent years. That situation, however, should be redressed and it is now the turn for the American leaders to find a way to do it. It seems that the situation is gradually changing. There are, of course, certain suspicious hands which are still trying to obstruct these changes by altering the grounds for change in the United States.
As for the “turning point,” I have to note that this concept cannot be analyzed with regard to a specific case alone. The United States has been so far following a specific trend and it has to change its confrontational approach to Iran for an interactive one. As a result, it seems that the approach that will be taken by the United States will finally determine whether a turning point is in the offing or not. At present, we must focus on the degree of readiness on the part of the United States to change. The ongoing trip by Mr. Rouhani to New York and the degree of attention that the United States will pay to positions of Iran should be taken as the basis for any analysis in this regard. The political elites in the United States have already noticed a change of tone as well as a change of behavior in Washington and believe that it is quite possible to look forward to a partnership between the two sides. However, this issue should be proven in practice.
The Islamic Republic has taken stances at its highest political levels against the proliferation of all kinds of weapons of mass destruction and has also urged the international community to recognize and guarantee its rights within framework of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). As said before, Iran asks for nothing more than its inalienable rights and wants to have its rightful capabilities recognized. During the past years, the country has also proven its power to promote stability and support peaceful processes in the entire region. The West should change its mind about going on with the policy of pressure and sanctions against Iran and it does not have much time to waste either. Iran will never sit down to engage in negotiations just for the sake of negotiations. As the American officials are fully aware, Ms. [Catherine] Ashton represents the member states of the P5+1 group of world powers [five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany] and any future talks between the two sides should be useful and aimed at reaching a firm result. Presenting new ideas for reaching a result and exploring multiple ways for building confidence and increasing transparency between the two sides can be quite helpful.
Q: The highest court of the European Union has been recently handing down verdicts against certain sanction policies that have been taken against Iran by the member states of the European Union (EU). Although those verdicts have not been implemented in practice yet, there are rumors about a possible change of the EU policies toward Iran. What is your opinion about the current conditions governing the Islamic Republic of Iran's relations with the EU, especially with important members of this Union?
A: The officials in Tehran have always welcomed any degree of realism in the EU’s attitude toward Iran. The British government is going on with diplomatic consultations with Iran in order to normalize relations between the two countries. Both sides have been in contact and made efforts in this regard, and any possible meeting between the two countries’ officials on the sidelines of the ongoing session of the UN General Assembly would be promising. The government of Germany has been making constant efforts to maintain friendly relations between Iran and Europe and has used its credit to emphasize on the importance of Iran's role in keeping up regional relations. During the coming days, the [French President Francois] Hollande is expected to meet with Mr. Rouhani. Iran and France have had helpful cooperation in the areas of transportation and energy industries in the past. The Italian foreign policymakers also visited Tehran soon after the [presidential] election and have had useful talks with their Iranian counterparts.
During the ongoing crisis in Syria, some European countries changed their policies in ways that could not be considered helpful. I have already noted in the past that certain regional political currents have been trying to implement a new scenario in Syria in order to obstruct avenues for further interaction between Iran and the West in the wake of the presidential elections. They feel that if the West actually takes steps to change its approach to Iran, the interests of the aforesaid currents will be in great jeopardy. The Islamic Republic of Iran has always given priority to a policy of constructive interaction and has also proven its goodwill through the quality of relations that it has established with other countries as well as with powerful political parties. Damascus, on the other hand, has made great endeavors to change relations with Paris and the French officials are well aware of this fact. They know that the government of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad attaches great significance to his country’s traditional relations with France. I think everybody should try to find solutions to the existing problems in order to make way for diplomatic initiatives to gain the upper hand over the wrath of war.
The Supreme Leader made a cursory reference to role of France in his address on the occasion of the Iranian New Year. The Iranian president also pointed to the importance of agreements between Iran and France in his first press conference. In the wake of his remarks, political officials from the French Foreign Ministry traveled to Tehran and a kind of political dialogue took place between the two countries’ foreign policy officials on bilateral and regional issues of interest. It seems that such cooperation can further expand and continue.
There was unpleasant news circulating in the media quite recently about the disappearance of certain SOL correspondents. Damascus and Paris should do their best to pursue the fate of their citizens who have been harmed in the conflict. This is not a political issue, but should be taken into account from a purely humanitarian point of view. Such apparently small steps are the actual facilitators which promote diplomacy and help countries dispel their concerns. The policy of pressure, threat, and military strike will get nowhere.
Just pay a little attention to recent diplomatic efforts. For instance, after the use of chemical weapons by criminal parties during the Syria conflict, the regional countries as well as the government of Russia have made strenuous efforts, and continue to do that, in order to prevent the West from making another big mistake and to prevent the ongoing crisis from spilling over into other parts of the region. I think that in view of regional conditions, the type of relations that Iran will have with the European Union will be of higher importance in 2014.
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