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Iran-EU reconciliation, a priority for Iranian new president

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Iranian Ambassador to Romania, Dr. Bahador Aminian Jazi:

An exclusive interview of MEPEI with Iranian Ambassador to Romania, His Excellency Dr. Bahador Aminian Jazi, July 25, 2013

His Excellency, Dr. Bahador Aminian Jazi, has a Master Degree and a PhD in International Relations and he was Rector of School of International Relations (Iran, 2007-2010) and Professor of international relations and strategy in various universities (1996 – 2010). He has been holding different positions at the Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry, including Director of Strategy and Theoretical Studies Centre in the Institute for Political and International Studies (2006) and Head of Foreign Policy Department of the Secretariat of the Expediency Discernment Council (1997 – 1999). He is Editor in chief of the "Journal of Regional Studies" and member of editorial board of the "Journal of Foreign Policy" and the "Defence Policy". His term in Romania started in September 2010.

 

Your Excellency, first of all, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to discuss with us some of the topics that currently have great importance for the international community and Iran. The election of Mr. Hassan Rouhani as Islamic Republic’s president caught the Western and Muslim countries’ attention, as well as of the others important international actors. Everyone is interested to see in which way the new president will manage the foreign and domestic policies and if he will bring the long-expected changes in these domains.

Considering Iranian geopolitical and geostrategic position in Middle East, which are its regional priorities in the actual context of continuous unrests?

Iran is situated in a very special part of the world. Actually we are neighbouring five different regions: Middle East, Central Asia, Persian Gulf, Caucasia and South Asia. Even if we are neighbour of Caucasia, we are not part of it, we are neighbour of Central Asia but we are not member of Central Asian countries, we are neighbour of Arab countries, but we are not Arabs. This situation provides us some special opportunities and priorities because we are somehow involved in the developments of all these areas. Whatever is happening in Afghanistan, Caucasus, Central Asia and Middle East, it affects Iran and, as you know, especially the Middle East and the Persian Gulf regions, that have always been two hot topics in the news. All of these issues create a particular geopolitical situation for our country. Iran has no other option that be involved in these regional developments, but this path produces both opportunities and threats for us. Capabilities and accumulated national power give Iran new position and regional role.

Additional to this geopolitical situation we should bring up one very important subject, the energy security. Iran has the second largest resources of oil and gas in the world. Energy security is one of the most significant issues in the current world and Iran’s access to these resources provides us with some opportunities. The world largest amount of energy is coming from the Persian Gulf and this means that many countries depend on the energy of that region. Because of the energy security question, all the powers in the world are interested in geopolitical, economic, political and security situation of the region. Persian Gulf became the centre of the big powers’ attention.

Even from an ideological perspective, the Middle East is one of the most important areas in the world, especially because many ideologies and religions consider this region their holy land: the Muslims, the Jews, and the Christians. All these issues combined with each other create a unique situation in the region.

After emerging from the colonial occupation period, the conditions fostered the birth of some kind of neo-colonialism and dictatorship regimes in this region, under which the voice of people was not heard. Recently, in the past 4 or 5 decades, people tried to get back the power and put an end to the regional dictatorships. The developments from Iranian revolution, the end of Saddam regime that brought democracy in Iraq, the Islamic awakening, the end of Ben Ali regime in Tunis, of Mubarak in Egypt, events in Bahrain and Yemen, all these represent the new wave of people that want to come to power and also to be heard.

From another perspective, the issue of foreign occupation in the region is very relevant. One of the main problems that create a lot of discussions and troubles in the region is the occupied land in Palestine. Unfortunately this circumstance is supported by some Western countries, US and some European ones, although the UN has passed different resolutions about the occupation and condemns it. The matter that derives from this situation consists in the increasing wave of refugees that the region has to deal with. Another important issue is the new wave of extremism that spread all over the region. These are presented shortly the main features of the geopolitical context of our region.

The Tehran officials asserted that Iran and the Islamic Revolution could represent models for the countries that experienced the Arab Spring. Yet it seems the Spring never ends, and touches Syria, Iran’s oldest regional ally. What are the strategies the new president will adopt in this respect? “Is Iran beating the US in Syria”[1]?

The new tide of uprisings is very serious as it was in the case of Iran where the revolution removed from power the regime that depended on US. Iranian model is a democratic one in which people involve themselves in all the aspects of their lives, in consideration of their own culture and ideology. Fortunately, we can see similar developments in other Islamic countries where people upraised to regain their democratic rights.

Regarding Syrian situation, Mr. Rouhani presented a very transparent position: we should not accept any foreign involvement, the bloodshed and terrorism should be stopped, no country should send arms and warriors. The best model for Syria is the one in which people of Syria decide about their future, as the people of Palestine should decide about their future and the people of Bahrain should do the same.

If you look at the Syrian scene, you can recognise a very dangerous combination: extremist fatwa (religious sentence), money, jihadists (religious warriors), weapons, political and intelligence support from abroad are combined against the regime and people. Do you think all of these combinations are happening for democracy?

Unfortunately, lately, Syria has become the school of training for terrorism as foreign countries are sending arms to the rebels. This situation will produce more fighting, more bloodshed and more terrorism in this country. Extremists from more than 25 countries are trained in Syria and they gathered arms that value millions of dollars. Ultimately, all of these will not stay in Syria but will spill over to other countries in the region, thus becoming a great threat for the whole region. We live in this area and we think that these developments are not favourable to the region and to the entire world. Regrettably, even the EU countries decided to remove the ban and to send arms to the Syrian rebels. Sooner or later they may understand that this policy is not a correct policy. Iran is asking the involved regional and world powers to remember what they have done in the Afghanistan, when they supported the Taliban and the consequences of that wrong policy.

How do you assess the ending of this conflict in Syria, considering the next year’s elections?

Syrian government mentioned that they are going to have elections next year. I think this is the best policy - to let people decide about their future. Every country, party and power involved should participate in this process and provide with the proper conditions that would allow Syrian people to say what they want. During the past few months the circumstances somehow changed. The terrorist groups could not reach to their ends although they are getting a lot of support from outside. If the situation continues until next year, the people’s decision is influenced by this climate. According to some estimation, Bashar al-Assad has some of the peoples’ support. Otherwise, how he could have stayed in power for so long? The opposition has no similar support in all of the country. There is also the danger of the country’s disintegration, but nobody should accept this option. The integrity of Syria is essential for the people of Syria and for the region. We hope that people of Syria could keep their integrity and decide in the next year’s elections if Bashar al-Assad stays in power or not.

How are the recent events in Egypt regarded by Iranian diplomacy?

Egypt is one of the centres of culture and history in the Arab world. After many years, the people had the chance to decide about their own destiny, they had elections and they experienced a good transition period. Unfortunately, at some point the situation went to another direction and we can see now a conflict between the people. At the moment, there are two groups in the street, both of them claiming to have the people’s support. One side has the election recognition, the other claims to have the new support of the people which manifest and demonstrate in the streets. These two different groups should sit down and talk about their future. Both sides should decide to make a compromise, because a continuation of the conflict is not in favour of the country and its people. In the end, we should respect the people’s decision.

The main concern is the respect to the people and democratic trend. Iran is worried about the spread of tensions and sectarian conflict. The people of Egypt should try to pass this critical phase peacefully and do not forget their main enemy in their border and do not let others to control their revolution. We hope this transition phase is short and Egypt remains in the resistance front.

Will Iranian approach to its regional “competitors”, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, suffer any changes? Is there any possibility that Iran and Saudi Arabia cooperate in order to bring stability in the Middle East?

It is normal that living in such a particular region some forms of competition might occur. In the bipolar geopolitical system the regional powers were not so influential. The polls, the superpowers, managed everything and all of the countries were under the protection and the policy of these superpowers. After the transition of the International System, the regional powers’ importance grew and their role increased. Not only the international system is in a transition stage, but our region is in such a transformation phase. Right now in the Middle East there are different regional powers and there is competition between these regional powers. But competition is good. We have good and warm relations with Turkey and Saudi Arabia. We consider them good neighbours, but we also have some differences in view and policies. Mr. Rouhani has the necessary experience to deal with this kind of affairs and we hope we will have efficient discussions and will reach to a better understanding with our neighbours in the near future.

Please describe the strategic role of the Strait of Hormuz.

Strait of Hormuz is crucial because 65% of world’s energy is coming from here. This energy flow gives the region its strategic importance. The world economy and world industry somehow depend on this region. It is also a very important area for Iran. We are situated there and all of our imports and exports are going from there. All of world’s powers - EU, Japan, and China - depend on this region. If any problem is created here, their economies would be affected. That is why any country that controls the Hormuz Strait could control the future of these countries. That’s also the reason for the military forces presence in Hormuz coming from different countries. This military presence is higher than anywhere in the world.

Has Iran a diplomatic plan to fight for the rights of Shia minorities in the region and protect them from Sunnis abuses?

We do not consider the issue from this point of view and Iran thinks that the minorities’ aspect in the region should be solved in a democratic manner. This is not a Shia - Sunni issue, but it is the peoples’ issue, it is about democracy. The power in the region, either Shia or Sunni, should be the proportionate reflection of the share of that population. For example, 65% of Bahrain population is Shia but they do not have any share in the power, which is unacceptable. Even if they represent the minority, they should have their own human rights, the right to live according to their values and nobody should attack people because of their beliefs. If the Jews are living in one region other than their own country, they should have their share of the power and participate, but it should not be accepted that the minority should rule over the majority, as it is the case of Palestine.

Religiously, there are minor difference between Shia and Sunni, as are for example between catholic and orthodox. But unfortunately, in the recent years, because of some extremists, the new wave of Takfiri salafism in the Islamic world, artificial problems have been created between believers, even though we lived in the region for 1,400 years without this kind of religious problems. In the recent years, this new wave of salafism, self-proclaimed jihadism, is trying to politicize the issue, to mix political with religious issues and create fights between different groups of believers. Unfortunately thousand of people were killed in the name of the religion, which is not the case.

Mr. Rouhani intends to improve the Iranian relations with the Western countries. Under what conditions this purpose could be realized? Will he be rethinking the relations with EU and EU’s countries, or with USA?

From the beginning, one of Mr. Rouhani priorities has been the relations with the EU countries. He mentioned repeatedly that we are going to improve the connections with the EU. When he was the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, he played a crucial role in improving the relations with some European countries, especially with Germany, France and UK. He had discussions with the foreign Ministers of these countries in Tehran. They reached to an agreement especially on the nuclear activity and on relations with the EU.

EU has some interests, priorities and concerns in the Middle East and can play a constructive role in this regard. Democracy, energy security, fight against drug trafficking, preventing terrorism and extremism are main part of these issues. The nuclear file can be solved by mutual understanding and confidence building measures.

Politics is not a one way street: if one part wants to solve the problem, the other part should also participate. Mr. Rouhani tries to improve relations and solve the problems between Iran and EU countries, but EU should also decide about the relation with Iran. Considering the sanctions imposed by EU, which are far from UN resolutions, EU should decide if they want to continue with this attitude toward Iran or if they want to seek compromise and change this approach. Iranian side is ready to resolve the problems, is showing goodwill and is transparent for this process. The other side should come to a decision and act accordingly. I think EU should play an independent role in this matter.

How do you assess the way of nuclear program and sanctions against Iran under the new president policy?

Mr. Rouhani promised during his election campaign that he would solve the problem. As you know, he was the Chief negotiator of Iran. Mr. Rouhani has the experience and knows all the aspects of this issue.

The nuclear file is a simple affair and if there is political will from both sides, it could be easily solved. It only needs some goodwill, transparency and confidence between initiators. Iran has received good signs from P5+1[2] and we are hoping that negotiations will go on in a desirable direction in the near future. We are aware that some countries are trying to create problems that will be an impediment to our good relations with EU. We are only asking Europeans not to let these countries interfere in these bilateral issues and not to let them create more problems for the world in the future.

During the presidential campaign the other important recurrent subject was the economic one, regarding issues as unemployment, inflation and the daily hardship of Iranian citizens, most of them generated as a result of the economic and trade sanctions for the Iranian nuclear program. The newly elected president said that all these won’t be resolved “overnight”. How would he assure the international community of the peaceful and scientific purposes of its program, when the Iranian officials did not succeed to convince the West that its religious and military doctrines do not allow the use of nuclear or mass destruction weapons?

We have some economic difficulties similar to the other countries. Some of them are related to the sanctions and others are caused, in part, by the bad management and bad politics. The sanctions have created for us some problems but these are not the reasons for all the economic problems. I might say that even some opportunities were designed and we are trying to use them in our advantage.

As I mentioned before, our nuclear activity is not so complicated. All of the Iranian nuclear activity is under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and I think Iran is the country that has the most intense supervision from this institution. No other country experienced an alike situation. We are member of Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), we are transparent in all our activities and we respect all the NPT decisions. We think we have some duties regarding this issue, but we also have some rights. We should work according to our duties and we are ready to show to the world that our entire activity is peaceful. We have the right to peaceful use of this energy. Nobody should prevent us to use this right and we should not suffer from any imposed involvement and interferences to our peaceful activities.

Religiously, we are not allowed to have military use of these nuclear activities. We are a religious country and it means that we cannot use nuclear technology for military purpose. Our religious leaders say it is not lawful and it is not religiously acceptable to use nuclear power for military use. Anybody who is familiar with our beliefs understands that when a religious country states that something is inacceptable, this statement has a powerful meaning.

Unfortunately, there are some parties that are claiming Iran has military nuclear intentions. Israeli officials have been stating repeatedly for the last 20 years that Iran would reach nuclear bomb in one or two years. Even if these claims were never been proved, Western countries accepted them and this situation created a lot of problems for the world. Why the Western countries continue to accept these wrong claims? You should not ask Iran, you should ask the others.

 

Furthermore, Mr. H. Rouhani promised to release the leaders of the Reformists and the Green Movement and the other political prisoners and journalists. Could he keep the faith with his voters and convince the Supreme Leader to release them from house arrests?

I did not hear about this promise that you mentioned. Mr. Rouhani is the head of the executive and this issue is not related to the executive prerogatives, but it is a judiciary matter. Mr. Rouhani graduated the law and knows the differences between the executive and judiciary power. He promised to create a cooperative and consultative atmosphere in Iran. The chances of succeeding are good because he has the vote of the majority of Iranians and the support of different groups including the reformist groups. He would do his best to create a more peaceful situation in Iran’s domestic affairs.

Romania and Iran traditionally used to have good and fruitful economical, cultural and diplomatic relations. But after the ‘89 Revolution they cooled off, as Romania focused on the process of European and NATO integration and as the international community imposed economic sanctions on Iran. At this moment, how could be described Romanian-Iranian relations? Shall we hope to see new diplomatic, cultural, economic bilateral relationship development between the two countries much more right now when new leaders have emerged in Romania and Iran (V. Ponta and H. Rouhani and their cabinets)?

Recently, both countries have showed good signs toward developing diplomatic relations, thus the possibility of having good relationship exists in both sides. I think Romania is revising its policies and positions concerning Eastern countries and old friends. On the other side, Iran respects Romania as a traditional friend and partner. Iranian people have good understanding and good memories of Romania.

We have had a good relation with Romania during the past decades, although sometimes it was better and sometimes not as good. Maybe there are some political aspects to be considered. The new developments could create new opportunities. For Mr. Rouhani, the EU is the priority. For the Romanian officials, the new look towards the Eastern countries is a priority and this means that in both sides these changes create new atmosphere that will provide with new appropriateness.

I would like to thank Romanian officials for their understanding. Because of your country’s geopolitical and historical ties with our region, the Romanian officials have a better perception of Syria, Palestine and Iran than other Europeans. If one follows the position of Romanian authorities, it will be find out that they are more realistic than other European countries that had not direct ties with our region.

We anticipate that Romanian officials could pay a more important part as a mediator in the Iranian-EU reconciliation process. They have the experience based on historical links and on realities of the region and they can play a crucial role based upon their realistic approach to this region.

Do you consider that official visits will be mutually beneficial in this direction?

We have had this kind of visit from Romanian foreign ministry and from Iranian Parliament to Romania. The level of the official relations should go higher. We have sent an invitation to the President and to the Prime Minister for the inauguration of Mr. Rouhani’s mandate. We think this is a good opportunity for both sides to create new atmosphere, but maybe the Romanian officials are waiting the EU decision in this regard. But the possibility is there. Iran is ready to invite Romanian officials and also Iranian officials mentioned that they are ready to come here because they consider Romania an old friend wherewith we have had a very good cooperation in the past.

 



[1] Vali NASR, “Iran is beating the US in Syria” http://www.newsday.com/opinion/oped/nasr-iran-is-beating-the-u-s-in-syria-1.5408542

[2] The P5+1 is a group of countries which in 2006 joined the diplomatic efforts with Iran in regard to its nuclear program. The term refers to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, namely United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France and Germany.

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