Syrian Crisis Can Become Opportunity for Iran

11 September 2013 | 22:19 Code : 1921257 Interview General category
Excerpts of an interview with Dr. Seyyed Mohammad Sadr, a former Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister
Syrian Crisis Can Become Opportunity for Iran

Iran’s Foreign Minister and the EU foreign policy chief have agreed on the timing of their forthcoming meeting which will take place on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting. Is there hope, in your opinion, for progress in the nuclear negotiations?

I believe that these negotiations will progress much better than before. I believe that the situation with regard to the nuclear dossier will generally improve. The main reason is the presidential election. During the past year, I repeatedly mentioned in my interviews that the solution to the nuclear issue lies within the country. This means that foreign policy is basically the continuation of domestic policy and until we can make changes in the political scene, we will not be able to see the resolution of the nuclear issue.

Do you believe that the present international atmosphere is more appropriate for the resolution of Iran’s nuclear issue?

Yes. Right now the image that exists in the international community of Mr. Rohani and his administration is positive and cannot be compared with the image of the previous administration. There have been positive positions taken by the international community since his victory. Even some of the irrational measures that are taken by the US Congress are, at least, not approved by the Obama administration. There is also a positive atmosphere in Europe with regard to the new administration in Iran. I believe that this positive atmosphere has been caused by two issues. The first issue is the nature of holding such elections. In any case, the elections were held in a healthy environment and led to the reflection of the image that perhaps there were groups in power in Iran which wanted to have someone else as the president but the regime respected the votes of the people and accepted the person who was chosen by the people.

The second issue is related to the reputation of Mr. Rohani in the world as being a moderate personality who understands the issues of today’s world. Mr. Rohani’s diplomatic experience, particularly with Iran’s nuclear issue, has created an atmosphere which is very different than before.

Besides the nuclear issue, what should the foreign policy priorities of the Rohani administration be?

The foreign policy of the whole world is concentrated on the Middle East. Issues like the crisis in Syria, Israel and Palestine, Egypt and the popular uprisings in the Arab countries are the top headlines of the world’s media. Therefore, it is natural that Iran, alongside the nuclear issue, must pursue active policies with regard to the Middle East region to provide both the interests of Iran and the interests of the entire region. Two years ago, when the popular uprisings began in the Arab world, I said in an interview that on one side I am happy about these developments and on the other I am sad. I was happy because the people of the region had finally paid attention to their civil and political rights after many years; but I was sad because there was not an administration in Iran which could use this situation and take steps to safeguard Iran’s national interests while strengthening these freedom-seeking and anti-dictatorship movements. But right now and after the establishment of Mr. Rohani’s administration, we are in a position which could remove this weakness. During the past two years and with Iran’s absence and its passive diplomacy, Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia have played the most important roles in regional developments. Iran must now solve this problem.

One of the most important present crises in the Middle East, which the government is also seriously involved in, is the crisis in Syria which is becoming more complicated day by day. The US and its allies talk about attacking Syria based on the accusation that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons. How would you assess the present situation in Syria?

Syria is one of the most complicated issues of Iran’s foreign policy which really has reached a critical point. Of course, in analyzing the present crisis in Syria, we must not forget that in the beginning there were peaceful demonstrations influenced by the Arab revolutions. The first and biggest mistake of the Syrian government was when it used violence against the protesters and suppressed them. If it had not taken such measures, the situation would certainly not have reached this point.

Nonetheless, what is certain today is that the crisis in Syria has created numerous problems for this country and Syria will not be the same Syria in the near future. The country is destroyed and many of its people have been displaced. The radical Salafi forces and al-Qaeda terrorists have come to this region from around the world and this country has become the scene of religious fighting. Now that the issue of a US attack against Syria is proposed, the situation might become more complicated.

What measure should Iran take with regard to this crisis?

We must deal with this complicated issue prudently and wisely and with a very accurate assessment. Efforts must be made to prevent the threat of Islamic terrorism from creating crisis for this country and the region. On the other hand, Iran must be careful so that the policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran are not considered as sectarian policies and not interpreted as a confirmation of the Shiite-Sunni dispute which is against the message of the Islamic Revolution. Of course, this is a very difficult task because mistakes have been made in the past which should carefully be evaluated and a strategy must be pursued so that both Iran’s interests and the interests of the people of Syria and the region can be provided. Meanwhile, attempts must be made to prevent the war in the region for if this war occurs, the present crises will be intensified.

Does this mean that Iran cannot play a positive role in this crisis?

There are numerous problems in the practical scene. Since months ago, there have been efforts made to hold the Geneva conference but with no avail. At the same time, Russia’s role is very important. In fact, Russia is the player competing against the US in the international scene. It is Russia which could veto the Security Council resolutions. At the present time, all the big powers of the world and the region are involved in the Syrian crisis. What Iran could have done from the beginning was to mediate between the opposition and the government of Bashar Assad. But the new administration in Iran can still play such an active role in this crisis. If Iran gets involved in talks with all disputing parties and the influential countries in the Syrian crisis, it can hold an international conference for the resolution of the crisis in Syria. Such a measure needs serious diplomatic activities. By following a logical strategy, we may be able to transform this threat into an appropriate opportunity for the Islamic Republic of Iran.

One of the consequences of the present crisis in Syria is the intensification of the Shiite-Sunni dispute which Iran is considered a part of. What must the new administration do in this regard?

The new administration must attempt to reduce this dispute between the Shiites and Sunnis which has reached its climax. We must show that the message of the Islamic Revolution and the policies of the Islamic Republic have been and continue to be aimed towards the unity of the Shiites and Sunnis. Drawing the necessary tactics needs apt discussions. Iran must improve its relations with the Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia. Working with the Sunnis can be one of these measures. This measure was on the agenda of the Reformist government as well. Now, the administration must also be active in this regard in order to show that Iran’s policy is not based on sectarianism. Official responsibilities in Sunni-inhabited cities must be given to the Sunni people and their rights must be observed. I must also mention that, during the presidency of Mr. Khatami, the government of Saudi Arabia dispatched a Shiite as its ambassador to Iran to show that it did not have a sectarian view.

tags: iran nuclear syria arab shiite sunni saudi