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Current Foreign Policy Approach Not Desirable

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TEHRAN, July 15 (ICANA) – Iranian Diplomacy staff met with Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of the Expediency Council, and while presenting a report on the activities of this site, they posed some questions on foreign policy and international affairs.
Friday, July 15, 2011 2:36:56 PM
Current Foreign Policy Approach Not Desirable

To begin with, Seyyed Sadegh Karazi pointed to the activities of IRD and stated that this site had turned into a virtual center for providing a different type of thinking in current Iranian diplomacy. He said that IRD tried to provide a different interpretation so that intellectuals and those interested could benefit and analyze the realities, and allow those outside the country to know that there are different voices in Iran.

Kharazi referred to meeting Mr. Hashemi 48 hours after the removal of Mr. Montazeri. He said, “I had just arrived from a trip to the South to report on the war advertising campaign. I asked you about the removal of Mr. Montazeri, and you said that “two issues really moved and disturbed me even more than the revolution itself. One of them was the retreat of our forces form Fav, which put me under severe pressure since I was the commander of war. The other event was the removal of Mr.Montazeri, which we could not prevent despite all our attempts”.”

The manager of the IRD site also stated,” the question is when should we bring up unmentioned foreign policy issues? Perhaps they should never be brought up. They might not be expressed in our lifetime due to some conveniences. But shouldn’t we learn from the past?”

After this introduction, Kharazi then requested that Ayatollah Hashemi clearly answer the questions posed by IRD.

Interview below:

IRD: It seems that Iran’s foreign policy in this administration differs from previous administrations. The current policy is labeled an “aggressive foreign policy”. First, we wanted to know if you accept that the current policy differs from the previous ones. If you do, how do you assess it? Do you think our foreign policy is optimal now, or should it change and go through some reforms?

Ayatollah Rafsanjani: I believe that the current approach is not desirable. However, the officials say that we want to have relations with the whole world. Their talk does not differ from the past, but their conduct does. There must be a reason behind our current strained relations with our neighboring countries.

During the war these countries officially supported Saddam. They funded him, propagandized for him and even sent their forces to assist him. Naturally, after the war we were in a bad situation, but we were able to create good relations with them. This trend started from our administration; the first step we took was in Senegal when we confronted the then Amir Abdullah and the current King Abdullah. He did not expect the Iranian president to confront Saudi Arabia’s crown prince like that, in that situation. After that confrontation, however, the ice between us was broken. They agreed that the Islamic Countries Summit would be held in Iran. However, they postponed it to be able to scrutinize our foreign policy in the meantime. First the summit was to be held in Tehran but they regretted it later.

Our next encounter with King Abdullah in Pakistan influenced him and changed his behavior toward us. In the very first meeting and before our presence, the Saudi foreign minister announced that the Summit will not be held in Tehran. But the behavior of the Iranian team in Pakistan impelled him say that “the statement of the foreign minister has to be denied, we are going to Tehran.”

His behavior in that meeting was very meaningful. Diplomatic conventions indicate that the heads of countries should enter another country with specific formalities. Malek Abdullah’s protection team was very cautious as well. After one of the meetings, we were supposed to go to a banquet held by the Pakistani Prime Minister’s office. Malek Abdullah came in my car. This is not really common in diplomatic practice.

Nevertheless, they built their confidence and we saw the result later. The Europeans were like this as well. They had helped Saddam in the war to the extent that they were mainly in charge of the war. Some later changed their approach. However the purpose of the revolution did not change, and we did not change our slogans. The only thing we said was that we wanted to work together.

We are preparing the memories of the year 1368 for publication. It was in this year that Imam Khomeini passed away and the war was over. During that time I was preparing myself for the presidency and I had many great memories, and many officials from different countries came to Iran. The taboos were broken and the path was open; and we were able to easily access technology and credit.

However, there were extremists at that time as well. About the Americans, well you were yourself in the Foreign Ministry, and you know better than me that despite their antagonist tone with us during the war, they were gradually changing their approach; however we again would answer harshly based on the orders of the Leader. Perhaps if we encountered the US like we did the Europeans, we would have had less problems.

The Soviet Union had forged close ties with us. China and the regional countries also all had a place in our foreign policy. Revolutionary originations like Hezbollah and the Palestinian groups were in line with us. In other words we would use the same language, but in practice we would act based upon diplomatic conventions. The Foreign Ministry had great capacity, and we could have benefited from it. I believe we can make changes for the better, even in the current situation.

IRD: You said that you believe we can make changes even now. What do you think we should do? For example, during your time diplomatic efforts were made to establish relations with our neighboring countries, and Mr. Khatami did the same. Currently our situation is apparent; our relations with our southern neighbors are not desirable. What do you think should be done in order to improve relations?

This depends on the executive officials, especially those in the foreign ministry. I can’t say much, but we shouldn’t do some of the things we are doing now. Iran is a country which many powers desire to have relations with due to their specific interests-- we can make use of this.

In general we should obey diplomatic conventions, and act in a way which reflects our history, culture and the Islamic Revolution. For example, in all countries the Foreign Ministry is in charge of foreign affairs and other countries rely on this fact. If we belittle this organization in the eyes of other countries, even the African countries will not want to negotiate with us. Unfortunately, our foreign ministry sometimes acts regardless of our national interests. You see that our relations with Saudi Arabia have deteriorated, but we could have solved the issues of not only Islamic countries but also the world with the aid of this country, if we had better relations. Not only do we act upon this policy we even make this relation (with Saudi Arabia) seem shattered in the eyes of the society. For example, when I went to meet with Malek Abdullah a few years ago I expressed my disappointment over the impolite behavior of the Saudi airport staff and Baqi cemetery officials with Iranian pilgrims, and he sympathized; as a result Iranian women could easily enter the Baqi cemetery, and based on the orders of the Higher Security Council, some structures were established in order for Iran and Saudi Arabia to cooperate on the issues of Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Palestine. But the people in charge did not want to implement them.

After my return to Iran, some newspapers would repeatedly say that the Iranian pilgrims are treated badly by the Saudis and that even Ayatollah Rayshahri had to go through a physical security check in the airport.

This really disappointed me, because it was not what we had agreed upon in Saudi Arabia. So I asked Mr. Rayshahri about the story and he said that nothing of that kind happed to him. And he called Mr. Mottaki and asked him why he had said that, and he said that he was under pressure to say such a thing.

We should not merge our foreign policy-- which is related to our national interests-- with domestic disputes. In order to demean my trip to Saudi Arabia and its results, they even were willing to shatter our foreign policy to this extent.

IRD: You said that our relations with many Western countries improved after the war, and you excluded the US; during your time and Mr. Khatami’s, even talking about negotiations with the US was taboo. But this taboo was broken by this administration. They even wrote some letters to US presidents. Once Mr. Jalili met with the Deputy US Secretary of State. Do you think this is still a taboo, or can we establish relations with the US as we did with Europe?

As I said, current officials are going a step further in language from other administrations. They even say strange things like we have close relations with Israel, which is not true, and we do not accept the fact that some Jewish immigrants have occupied Palestinian territory.

However they are not successful in practice, and they act hastily in our foreign policy just like they do in our economic, cultural, ethical, social and political domestic issues. In diplomacy, negotiation management, psychology of relations, and political sociology are very important factors. These should be taught to our high ranking officials by our experts in the foreign ministry.

I believe that we can negotiate with the US in a situation as equals, and with mutual respect. They broke the taboo of negotiations with the US in their talks, while this taboo was so prevalent during Mr. Khatami’s time that once he even had to change his direction to not encounter any American officials in a meeting. However, now we have the opposite situation, and unilateral correspondence with the US is taking place.

IRD: In a meeting Mr. Khatami did not even take a picture with officials from other countries in order to prevent any encounter with US officials, but the current president has taken pictures with Sharon and Bush.

What I’m saying is that this administration has no taboo in their language but they have a different practice. However, we can’t totally blame this side; the Americans exhibit harsh behavior with us and they make harsh official statements against Iran, which in the past-- even if they had made a decision-- it wouldn’t be evident in their talk. The Europeans have always been on the American side. Some think that they can divide Europe from the US, which is not easy. They have mutual interests; they are willing to cooperate with Iran until their mutual interests with the US are not harmed.

I believe that we are now great in terms of talking and rhetoric, but we are lacking in our practices. I used to learn from foreign ministry experts during my presidency, as well.

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