Lundi 22 Avril 2019  

N°124 - Quatrième trimestre 2018

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  S.E.M. / H.E. Mohammed Sadegh Kharazi

Iran: A Crossroad of Conflict and Connection

With the Middle East geopolitical order upended by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran is becoming a key player as a new era dawns in this part of the world. H.E. Mohammad Sadegh Kharazi, the Ambassador of Iran to France, tells our readers how his country is handling this brand-new situation.

The Diplomatic Letter: Mr. Ambassador, as the legislative elections scheduled for 2004 draw nearer, could you describe the strides made in Iran since President Mohammad Khatami was reelected in June 2001? In light of the headway made by the reformist government, can it be said that Iran is undergoing a political shift? How do you explain the low voter turnout for the March 2003 municipal elections?

H.E. Mohammad Sadegh Kharazi: There is a direct link between President Mohammad Khatami’s actions and his reelection in June 2001. The reforms being carried out in Iran comprise, by definition, both a project and a specific process. President Khatami has served as, and remains, the symbol of these reforms. The results of the upcoming elections will show just has successful he has been in convincing the Iranian people of the importance of these reforms. Iranian society, like every society,  is a complex system with its own unique characteristics. In that perspective, one of President Khatami’s greatest accomplishments is having built a bridge between tradition and modernity in a society such as Iran – where ideals and traditions are of utmost importance – without causing that society to collapse and fall victim to a grave and insurmountable crisis. It has been better to move forward slowly but surely with the reform process, instead of rushing things and bringing the entire society tumbling down. President Khatami’s policy is to push forward with the reform process, while respecting the dialogue process unique to Iranian society. A number of people, both inside and outside the country, may not be content to see President Khatami keep pushing forward in this determined yet calm and peaceful manner. And yet, this is absolutely essential for Iranian society.
With regard to the results of the March 2003 municipal elections, a number of different things must be taken into account. It is true that voter turnout was too low in many cities. But if we look at the country as a whole, in the cities as well as the countryside, voter turnout was entirely satisfactory. Over 24 million citizens voted in the municipal elections. Though only 12 to 20% of people voted in some large Iranian cities, in others as many as 70 to 90% turned out. This phenomenon was actually sparked by the people’s discontent and disappointment with the actions of  various municipal councils that were holding their first elections. Their mayors were unable to resolve a number of problems to their voters and citizens’ satisfaction. If we held a new round of municipal elections, voter turnout would probably exceed 80%, especially in Teheran. In any case, municipal council elections cannot be used as the ultimate reference. I am the first to admit that voter participation is falling off in major cities, due to the insufficient headway made by their municipal councils and mayors. If that does reflect an antiestablishment sentiment, it is not directed toward the government or the Iranian state, but toward the policies of certain mayors at the local level.

T.D.L.: Iran is facing serious economic problems, starting with rampant inflation and a relatively young population waylaid by chronic unemployment. Could you briefly summarize what the government is doing to overcome these  difficult challenges? As the world’s second leading oil producer, how can Iran diversify its economy and reduce its heavy dependence on oil?

H.E.M.S.K.: Iran posted a 7.25% economic growth rate in 2002. If all goes to plan, that figure should rise to 8% in 2003. This economic vitality is the fruit of vast projects that are being implementing in the service and agricultural sectors, as well as in heavy industry. To use a metaphor, the Iranian economic train is chugging forward. Instead of idling, the train is moving full steam ahead. But we must also admit that part of our economy is ailing. That is the area we have to work on. Every country has its own economic system with its own unique characteristics. While Iran’s birth rate has been brought in check, a large part of the population is comprised of young people who are looking for jobs and a comfortable standard of living. It should also be stressed that our industries are not yet sufficiently mechanized in a great many fields, though great headway has been made. But the most important thing, as far as terminology is concerned, is that Iranians have all accepted the idea that the economy is a top priority, and that we must try to build a healthy economy. We have accepted the principle of privatization and the market economy, as well as the importance of foreign investments. We have come to the realization that Marxist and socialist economies did not produce the desired results, but also believe that Iranian society must redistribute its riches in a more equitable manner. It must be kept in mind, however, that Iranian economic growth depends not only on our country’s capacities but also on its preexisting economic infrastructures. What’s more, we cannot think about shoring up and expanding our economy without taking into account Iran’s geopolitical and geographic situation within this region.  
While the oil industry still plays a major role in the Iranian economy, our investment efforts are no longer focusing solely on this sector. In order to foster the rapid expansion of other activity sectors, we must speed up the privatization process and computerize the entire fiscal system along with the customs and banking systems. Iran is also looking to export more of its engineering related services, an extremely important field for Iran. Petrochemicals are another key branch of our economy. Within the next three years, Iran will become one of the world’s three or four leading countries in this sector. By 2008, revenues from the petrochemical industry will equal those generated by Iran’s oil industry. We are also making remarkable strides in other industrial branches, as well as in the agricultural, telecommunications and transportation sectors. We are already well on our way to shoring up the country’s financial market. Looking at the Iranian stock market, for instance, we find few other markets currently displaying such strong vitality. An extremely important movement is hence underway, pushing forward at its own pace and rhythm. In fact, Iran is already in a position to influence other markets at the regional level, and is striving to bolster its position to that end. We can only hope that our country will continue to grow at the international level as well.

T.D.L.: Iran’s inclusion on President George Bush’s list of “rogue states” is the culmination of over twenty years of tension between your country and the United States. Could you describe Iran’s geostrategic situation after the U.S. military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq? On a broader level, do you think the U.S. military’s presence in both the Middle East and Central Asia will spur Iran and the U.S. to look for ways to normalize relations?

H.E.M.S.K.: Iran laid out its official policy very clearly, and made it widely known. We loathed the Taliban government and believed it had no legitimacy whatsoever, just as we loathed the government of Saddam Hussein and his followers, just as we are displeased by the presence of the U.S. military in this region. None of that, however, has kept us from recognizing realities. We believe that the presence of the United States presents a danger to both the security and stability of this region.  That presence, however, is an undeniable reality. We nonetheless believe that the U.S. must respect the countries in this region, and end the occupation of Iraq as quickly as possible. We believe that there are three main keys to restoring security and stability in this region:
– political development,
– economic development,
-no outside interference of any kind.
As for the issue of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s relations with the United States, we have never ruled out the possibility of eventually normalizing relations. If a new American administration finally takes a logical, well thought out and reasonable stance, and finally agrees to  ask forgiveness for its past actions, and, most importantly, agrees to take a correct view of the future and to respect Iran’s special position in this region, if it finally agrees to dialogue with words and not weapons, then at that point in time, Iran will obviously respond in favorably. Under those conditions, it would be possible for Iran and the United States to once again cooperate. We must not forget that one positive gesture can spark other positive gestures. It should also be remembered that the Americans cannot do anything in this region without Iran. It is impossible to establish a security and stability ring around this region without our country’s help. They can not push us aside, as Iran too is an undeniable reality in this region.

T.D.L.: What are your thoughts on the Iraqi reconstruction process, which has run up against seemingly endless problems? How do feel about the way the United States is handling Iraq?

H.E.M.S.K.: First of all, Iran has no intention of intervening in Iraq. Iraq is a neighbor, a Muslim country with a very rich past and a strong identity. If Iraq asks for our help, as our brother and our neighbor, then we will obviously respond. That said, we have no ambitions whatsoever in Iraq. It is our hope and wish to see the creation of a government and a constitution that acknowledge the rights of minorities, and respect them. If that constitution allows all ethnic groups and minorities to participate, if it finally instills a spirit of vitality and hope for the future in the hearts of Iraqis, if it spreads liberty and democracy, but in this region’s unique interpretation of these concepts, then we will support such a constitution. The stabilization of this region depends on our own stability and patience, as much as it does on the reasonable actions of the foreign powers that have moved into it. If we are to create a favorable climate in the region, then the occupation of Iraq must be handled in a reasonable manner, in full accordance with public international law. The United Nations must regain its power and predominance in the region. The past, the identity, and the cultures of the region’s various peoples must be respected. The problem with the current situation is the attitude being displayed by the U.S., which has led the United Nations and the international community astray. To put U.S. thoughts into simple words: they want American political and security doctrine to dominate in Iraq, with all power in the hands of American generals, but with the costs being paid by the United Nations and the other members of the international community. That way, American soldiers won’t be the ones dying, but French soldiers or soldiers from other countries. In short, participation in Iraqi reconstruction will either be fair and equitable, or it will not happen at all. And it cannot be selective, either. Iraq’s unique characteristics must also be taken into account. The United States has not, by definition,  been registered as the new title owner in Iraq. From this angle, the U.S. has transformed the United Nations into a tool, somewhat like an NGO. And as long as the American government holds on to that view, it will not be able to achieve its end.

T.D.L.: Despite its current turmoil, Southern Asia holds tremendous development potential. Is Iran looking to step up cooperation with neighbors like Afghanistan and Pakistan?

H.E.M.S.K.: Let me start by emphasizing that before 11 September 2001, Iran was the first country to label the Taliban regime as unacceptable. Those who initially supported the Taliban regime, both inside and outside the region, finally came around to Iran’s realistic view of this regime. Sept. 11th finally exposed the great threats that lurk at the international level, and weigh in a clearly identifiable manner on each and every country. With regard to Iran’s approach to its relations with neighboring countries, we have always advocated fostering regional relations. We believe that all of the countries in this region must resolve their problems amongst themselves. We prefer the regionalization process to the globalization favored by the United States. In fact, the U.S. is trying to Americanize the entire region. We, in contrast, believe that regionalism is imperative. This region does, however, need to attain a certain degree of maturity, in both the security and political arenas. As for economic cooperation, numerous projects have already been launched, but they need to be given further study and debate. Be that as it may, 70% of the energy used around the globe transits through  the region in which we live. It is a fast-developing region with considerable assets, which is currently undergoing wide transformations.
T.D.L.: Having recently called for the creation of two separate states in Palestine, does Iran believe the “road map” is making any headway? Do you think it lays out a viable solution for establishing a “just and lasting peace”?

H.E.M.S.K.: Everyone who cares about the fate of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian cause desires peace and stability in the Middle East. The current situation gives little reason for optimism about the road map’s chances of success. The plan’s stated objective is exactly the opposite of what is happening right now in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Muslim people of Iran and the leaders of the Islamic Republic fervently hope that a solution leading to the establishment of a just a lasting peace throughout the entire region will at last be found. And yet Israel, in both its actions and policies, has shown that it lacks necessary political will to reach this objective. Until the root causes of the violence and unrest have been taken into account, the precarious peace and stability imposed by the use of military force will only breed more hate and vengeance. In this respect: he who sows the wind shall reap the whirlwind.

T.D.L.: After meeting in Moscow from 22-24 July 2003, the Caspian Basin Countries appear to have once again failed to come to an agreement on the status of this oil-rich region. What is Iran’s reaction to Russia’s proposal on how to divide this area? Is Teheran in favor of finding a joint solution that would foster greater regional cooperation?

H.E.M.S.K.: The Caspian Sea is an enormous expanse shared by Iran and the former Soviet Union. In the past, we had just one neighbor on our northern border. But since the dismantlement of the USSR, Iran has faced four newly independent countries. The sea’s geographic location and wealth of fish and oil resources have endowed it with vast potential. The 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea says nothing about the legal regime for closed seas. It is clear, however, that the various state-level treaties and agreements are important international legal sources. The 1940 accord and the letters that make up its annex are the foundation of the legal regime currently governing the Caspian Sea. We, however, believe that this agreement must now be fine tuned, in light of the new geopolitical situation in the basin. We are ready to negotiate with our neighbors and strike a 5-way pact, with the aim of finding a better formula based on equity and fairness. Needless to say, the bilateral and three-party agreements already signed between certain states would no longer be legally valid.  And in accordance with the principle applied to international law, pacta tertis Nec Nosunt Nec prosunt, third-party countries will not be bound by agreements reached between two other countries. Certain countries bordering the Caspian believe that this sea should be divided into equidistant national zones. Creating equal zones is not necessarily the only way to divide up these waters. There are, in fact, other ways to ensure an equitable division, including the “modified median line.” Whatever the case may be, when everyone sits down to the negotiating table with good will and understanding, it is possible to come up with a full and global solution.  

T.D.L.: After the recent visit to Teheran by the Foreign Affairs Ministers of Britain, Germany and France, Iran agreed to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty’s additional protocol. Can you tell our readers how these agreements will be implemented? How are Iranian authorities going to procure the fuel the country needs to run its nuclear power plants?
H.E.M.S.K.: Iran has been saying for months now that it sees the additional protocol in a very positive light, and that it has always been fully committed to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The agreement reached on 21 October 2003 with the Foreign Affairs Ministers of Britain, France and Germany is one more step in my country’s earnest and continued cooperation on the issue of non-proliferation.
The Iranian government will sign the additional protocol as soon as the ambiguous points and questions have been cleared up. And as a sign of its good will, Iran will begin implementing the protocol even before it has been ratified. Our actions over the past months have been aimed at exactly that.
As for how we will procure nuclear fuel for our nuclear power plants and reactors, we are pursuing a transparent and clearly defined policy. In accordance with the agreement reached between Iran and Russia, Russia will supply the fuel for the Bushehr nuclear plant. An accord for repatriating the spent fuel back to Russia will be signed shortly. In addition, to ensure a steady supply of fuel for its plants, Iran also plans to continue its programs to enrich uranium as authorized by the NPT, and to produce enriched uranium under the supervision and full control of the IAEA. Iran is anxious to ease the tensions surrounding its nuclear program, and to create a climate of trust. It is thus temporarily suspending all uranium enriching activities, in accordance with the terms of the October 21st agreement. The accord struck in Teheran lays out a clear plan for procuring fuel for Iran’s nuclear power plants in the future, and for European and international cooperation in producing electricity using atomic energy. We have no worries whatsoever about this issue.

T.D.L.: The negotiations opened in December 2002 on a future trade and cooperation agreement between the European Union and Iran continue to push forward. What must now be done to ensure that this accord becomes a reality? With the better part of Iran-EU trade ties concentrated in the oil sector, do you think Iran and Europe might one day build a full-fledged energy partnership? What can Europe do to help foster stability and development in the Middle East?

H.E.M.S.K.: The talks with the European Union on a global trade agreement have been going on for a good while, but have yet to give rise to an agreement, due to a number of misunderstandings and the diverging priorities of member countries. We have taken a long-term strategic approach to our relations with Europe. We believe that the centuries-old commercial ties between Iran and Europe can continue to grow freely beyond our governments and policies. All the more so, as the countries of Europe have become our leading trade partners.
To our minds, the current intermingling of trade questions with political issues harms the best interests of both parties. Indeed, Iran and Europe are linked by a form of mutual solidarity, not only in the energy sector but in other areas as well. Various European firms, for instance, are currently involved in Iranian energy projects, despite the restrictions still in force. Their participation could be stepped up even further, in our mutual interest. Having said that, Europe has a historic role to play in the Middle East, serving as an effective force for spurring development and establishing a just peace in this region.

T.D.L.: France and Iran are linked by nearly two centuries of bilateral ties. Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s 1999 visit to France breathed new life into Franco-Iranian relations. Has this translated into any concrete advances? What are your thoughts on the arrest by French authorities of the leaders of the Iranian People’s Mujahedin this past June? Can we take the anticipated ratification of an investment promotion agreement as a sign our two countries will be strengthening their trade ties in the future?

H.E.M.S.K.: As you rightly mentioned, France and Iran have had political and trade ties for over two centuries. As far as we are concerned, France can broaden it economic and political ties with Iran without restriction. We, too, are prepared to expand our cooperation with Paris. Iranians still consider France a friend, a country on which they can count in times of trouble. Our country was never been colonized by France, so harbors no bitter memories. Our scholars are not unfamiliar with France’s language and culture. As for the June 2003 arrest, in France, of the leaders of the Iranian People’s Mujahedin, I think that during the few weeks this event was a hot news item, the French public came to realize that this group is indeed a sect. The Iranian government did not exert any pressure in favor of this arrest. This organization was included on the list of terrorist groups drawn up by the European Union and the U.S.A. French authorities concluded that the People’s Mujahedin were a threat to law and order in their country. Finally, any agreement that could help spark stronger trade ties between our two countries and boost mutual investments is always a useful step. We hope that our French friends, and French investors, will have enough confidence and motivation to come invest in Iran. As the Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran, I would like to extend a warm welcome to each and every one of them at once!
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