Normal Relations with US Not Impossible
February 14th, 2014 - by Sara Massoumi
Six months after the new administration came to power in Iran, the majority of changes in the government can be seen in the country’s diplomatic apparatus. It is clear that, as Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif is following a new strategy in diplomacy, and, in the past few months, he has been one of the cabinet’s busiest ministers; from the signing of the Joint Plan of Action to relative détente in US-Iran relations and efforts to reduce regional tensions. Iranian Diplomacy recently spoke with Dr. Seyyed Mohammad Sadr, a former Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African affairs, about Iran’s foreign policy in the new administration.
More than six months have passed since the new administration came to power and since Mohammad Javad Zarif became the Iranian Foreign Minister. What changes has the presence of new faces with different strategies in foreign policy brought about?
The most important change that has happened during these past six months is the change in the international atmosphere with regard to the Islamic Republic of Iran. The measures taken by the previous administration had shut the gates of foreign policy on Iran. Although we cannot yet claim that these gates are now completely open, the important point is that the trend of the opening of these gates has begun. During recent years, international sanctions were imposed on us and we must take note that international sanctions have their own special meaning and are related to the sanctions that have been imposed by the UN and the Security Council. These sanctions are different from the unilateral sanctions of countries like the US and Europe. International sanctions mean that all members of the international community have imposed sanctions on one country.
During the course of the recent presidential elections, Mr. Rohani was elected with the people’s votes and the system respected these votes and this issue was a very effective element in the change of the international view with regard to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The collection of these developments and, of course, the changes which happened in our foreign policy and the new foreign policy team which, contrary to the previous administrations, has serious expertise in international issues and nuclear energy, have added to the newly created positive atmosphere. Of course, I must reiterate that we are still taking the first steps but I hope that the newly-begun trend will continue.
During the ninth and tenth administrations, an aggressive diplomacy was pursued. This is while, in the new administration, more pragmatism is pursued and tensions are being avoided. Some critics of this strategy state that the Foreign Ministry has distanced itself from the ideals set by Imam Khomeini. How close was that diplomacy to Imam Khomeini’s way of thinking?
Since I was the Director General for US-European affairs of the Foreign Ministry from 1981 to 1985, when Imam Khomeini was still alive, I can firmly state that what I had interpreted from the foreign policy of Imam Khomeini was the importance of wisdom, intelligence and prudence in the Foreign Ministry. Imam Khomeini never supported actions which threatened the national interests of Iran. In 1982, when Israel occupied southern Lebanon, some of the radical revolutionaries claimed that the opportunity had risen for the people of Iran to start a war with the Zionist regime. On this basis, these people decided to dispatch forces to Lebanon to fight against Israel. This decision was made when Iran was involved in the war which was imposed by Iraq and four provinces of Iran were occupied by Saddam Hussein and those who sought to dispatch forces to Lebanon did not comprehend that, under conditions when Iran was at war, getting into a fight against another country on another country’s soil was not correct. When Imam Khomeini found out about this matter, he strongly criticized this measure. Radicalism, anarchism and aggressive foreign policy had no place in the political thought of Imam Khomeini.
In the new administration, Iranian officials are meeting with their American counterparts. This is unprecedented in post-Revolution Iran. Some critics of the new administration accuse it of being too enthusiastic about interacting with the US.
Enthusiasm is the characteristic of those who lack enough knowledge about this issue. If we claim that the Foreign Ministry is enthusiastic about establishing relations with the US, it would mean that the Foreign Minister himself and the President have no knowledge of foreign policy issues. Right now, one of the most basic issues of foreign policy is the issue of the US and interaction or confrontation with this country. I suppose that even the opponents of the policies of the Foreign Ministry do not claim that the new team of foreign policy is not knowledgeable in this regard and that the President is not completely aware of these issues. When you are completely aware of the complexities of an issue, you would not become enthusiastic.
Why did the new administration pursue the breaking of the traditional structure with regard to the US as soon as it came to power? What issues have necessitated this bilateral détente?
In order to answer this question, we must review the past. The first mistake which Mr. Ahmadinejad made during the past two administrations was that he claimed that our foreign policy could move on the path that he had defined and the nuclear dossier would not be referred to the Security Council from the IAEA Board of Governors despite his positions and measures and the fact that he had called sanctions pieces of torn paper. At that time we had repeatedly warned him that the referral of this dossier from the Board of Governors to the Security Council was not impossible and there was the possibility that this referral would easily be undertaken.
At that time our reasoning was that the influence of the US in the IAEA Board of Governors was less than the leverage which the US had in the Security Council such as the right of veto. With the disapproval of Mr. Ahmadinejad, the nuclear case was ultimately referred to the UN Security Council wherein the US is either the superior power or one of the main decision-making powers. Therefore, in order to untie the existing knot in the nuclear issue, we must naturally enter into negotiations with the P5+1 and the US which has great influence over other countries.
The trend of détente in Tehran-Washington relations has been accelerated. The meetings between the two foreign ministers on the sidelines of international conferences or the first telephone conversation between the two presidents are examples of this issue. Will this trend of détente gradually lead to the normalization of relations between the two countries?
Reestablishment of relations with the US is a bilateral issue. Right now we must carefully study the political games of the other side and know their political personalities. Despite the fact that the Obama administration is under the pressure of radical groups, Obama has made efforts to pursue détente and it should be mentioned that despite that fact that Obama’s intention is clear in this regard, there are behaviors on the other side which are far from the expected political wisdom. If nuclear negotiations succeed and the Islamic Republic of Iran sees good intention on the other side, then we could move towards a positive atmosphere in Iran-US relations.
If the US stops its conspiracies against Iran and, as they claim in words, does not seek regime change and proves it in action as well, we can move towards the normalization of relations based on mutual respect and considering common interests.
The new Foreign Minister has visited the countries of the region and attempts to revive Iran’s positive role in this region and they have, to some extent, been successful. But Saudi Arabia is still the most difficult point of the government’s strategies in regional diplomacy. What should be done to untie this knot?
The shadow of the incorrect policies of the previous administration is still present in the issue of Saudi Arabia and, although the new administration has had certain maneuvers in the Arab states, these reforms have not yet created changes in Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, the al-Saud regime has also made great mistakes by not understanding the changes that have been made in Iran following the election. Their other mistake is that they have been influenced by the US-Israeli propaganda which has been going on since three decades ago.
Another change which has happened in Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy is that this country has left its 60-year-old traditional conservative framework and taken certain measures which are usually taken by radical countries and not a country which has decades of experience. The symbol of these new but incorrect strategies is Saudi Arabia’s support of the terrorist movements in the entire region which will ultimately target Saudi Arabia itself.
The Syrian crisis is becoming more complex day by day, as we can see with unsuccessful political meetings and Iran’s role not being officially accepted in the Geneva-2 conference. What is the solution, in your opinion, of this crisis? Can Syria be a place of cooperation between Iran and the US?
Perhaps it can be said without exaggeration that at the present time the issue of Syria is the most complex foreign policy matter at the international level for all countries.
The reason behind the complexity of this case is that from the first days of the formation of this crisis, the involved parties, whether government forces or the opposition and regional and extra-regional powers, have all made numerous strategic mistakes.
On the other hand, some countries like Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia assumed that with the first flames of popular protests in Syria, this country would be faced with the same destiny as of that of Egypt and Tunisia and the government of Bashar Assad would be overthrown in a short period of time. These incorrect judgments affected the positions taken by some regional and extra-regional countries. It was due to the suppression of peaceful demonstrations that this case came out of the political phase and entered a military phase. Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey entered this phase and started to dispatch terrorists inside Syria.
Iran, as one of the serious supporters of Bashar Assad, must certainly be present in the attempts to reach a political solution for this issue.