After the US attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran was thought to be the biggest winner coming out of these conflicts. How do you assess the role of foreign policy during the reformist period?
SK: Imam Khomeini's movement was based on people's awareness. This same dialogue was repeated during the reformist period. The result of this dialogue was the transfer of experience to other countries in the region. This result was first seen in the Islamist movement in Turkey. Following this, we saw similar results in Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11, and Iran diplomatically did the logical thing by both cooperating and using threats. By the governing system, I mean the whole system, including the Supreme Leader, the National Security Council, military and political establishments, and the government.
You claim that the reformist government had a similar dialogue to that of Imam Khomeini, but the Ahmadinejad government does not seem to agree with this. They claim that their policies and strategies are closer to those of the Imam and the revolution.
SK: It is not so. When I say that the reformist dialogue was the same as that of Imam Khomeini and the revolution, it means that it is the same as that of the Supreme Leader as well. In 1998, I met with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who was officially the Crown Prince at the time. During the meeting, he asked me what we were looking for when we speak of democracy. He believed that this talk of democracy had no other outcome than to disturb the people of the region. All totalitarian regimes have problems with this dialogue of democracy, and do not accept it.
But our regional influence and power during the former rulers’ and dictators' era was more than present. Since the beginning of the ninth government, we are faced with change in dialogue.
SK: I, myself, in my talks with King Abdullah defended this dialogue and openly said that the only way for regional stability is the awakening of nations and a democratic turn in power. Six years ago, I accompanied Mr. Khatami in his visit to Egypt. Hosni Mubarak, the deposed president, requested to meet Mr. Khatami. Mubarak criticized Mr. Khatami, and asked “what this democracy is that you are after”. He meant to say that now you are no longer in power and, in fact, you are the victim of your own thinking. He strongly criticized the Americans and Ms. Rice, stating that these ideas came from the US. He mockingly admired Qaddafi's “democracy”.
Was our regional influence and power during the former rulers’ and dictators’ era more than present?
SK: During the ninth government, there was a change in rhetoric. The wisdom and respect which existed in the statements of Imam Khomeini and the leader could not be seen in the behavior of the government. There has not been a change of policy, for it is the leader who draws up the Middle East policies, and if it wasn't for the leader's view in many instances, the government would have acted differently.
How did it intend to act?
SK: The ninth and tenth governments did not have any inclination towards stability in the political system and today's government of Iraq. Pressures exerted by the US, Western countries and Arabs of the region for a change in the Iraqi government led to the pacification of the government. They viewed regional issues differently. There is a serious contradiction between their words and their deeds. Incidentally, our position in the region and the Middle East is not shaky, for the basis and depth of our Middle East strategy is defined by the leader.
Isn't it true that it is the leader who defines general policies of our system in foreign policy?
SK: Yes, but in enforcing the policies and dialogue with the West, the government made a strategic mistake and in fact we provoked the West. They used harsh and provocative words. They talked about the Holocaust which had nothing to do with us, belittled others, or made a mockery of oppressive decisions of the West where intelligent behavior was needed. Every day, a new issue was created and we had to transform the nuclear issue-- which was a political and legal issue-- into a security issue with the West and fight with everybody. Today, our strategy, in rhetoric, is close to the Latin American one. But they have lost Europe. Our position in Europe and our relations with many developing countries have been weakened. Today, instead of containing US behavior, we, unfortunately, see this country to be against our interests even more seriously.
The leader has drawn an orderly foreign policy in the Middle East. Due to the continuity of this policy, both in thought and in action, Iran had superior position. Just imagine the Middle East twenty five years ago. The military ruled Turkey, but today national forces who are friends of Iran are in power. Of course, this does not mean that they do not have their priorities and special policies. The Taliban ruled over Afghanistan and civil war was widespread. But, today our friends are in power in Afghanistan. The Shiites are also present in the government. Division of power is conducted, to a certain extent, based on tribal and religious demography. In Iraq, Saddam was in power who was our enemy and against humanity, but today Iran's friends have come to power.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah, showing its capabilities and talents, is considered as the symbol of resistance in the Arab world and as a success in Shiite geopolitics. And those who supported the West do not have any base in that country today. In Egypt, there is no Mubarak; rather the president is Morsi, who has come from Muslim Brotherhood who claim to have relations with the Islamic Revolution. In Tunisia, Rashid Al-Ghannushi, who has been my friend, is a prominent figure. I am familiar with his ideas and thoughts. He was a supporter of our revolution. No country in the world has enjoyed such a position. But today, due to Iran’s foreign relations and domineering system in the international scene and the existence of double standards in the world, relations are not as transparent as possible. The reason behind the concerns of these countries in their official relations is based on the strategic weakness of the government in regional and international relations. Considering the fact that there has been no change in our policy and only our behavior has become provocative, if the government had acted wisely in the international scene and better managed the issues-- and if we had behaved with wisdom-- today we would enjoy a better position. Instead of Mr. Morsi's first trip being Saudi Arabia, it would have been to Iran. In December 2001, when Hamid Karzai came to power in Afghanistan, many countries of the region had the problem of legitimacy with his government. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and UAE did not officially recognize this government. They were all the Taliban's strategic allies. What happened? Iran’s Foreign Ministry, under the guidance of the leader and cooperation between all political, security, and military apparatus of the country, played a role in the stabilization of the Karzai government. It wasn't that during the reformist government we were faced with conspiracies. At that time also, Pakistan’s ISI directed the terrorist groups of Al-Qaeda towards Iran and gave information to the intelligence arms of the Arabs and the US that Al-Qaeda was present inside Iran.