Iran’s Perspectives on the Issue of National Security
Speech by H.E. Dr. Kamal Kharrazi, Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
September 28, 2004
Ladies and Gentlemen:
It gives me great pleasure to address this distinguished group and I wish to express my gratitude to the Asia Society, in particular Dr. Vishakha N. Desai, the president of this society, for her warm invitation. The role of the Asia Society as a prominent institute in promoting better understanding on major issues affecting international peace and security is well-known. At a time when stakes are high and stability and security in our region face tremendous challenges, this role is becoming all the more important. I hope our discussion, today, serves this purpose.
I would like to focus my discussion today on reviewing Iran’s perspectives on the issue of national security within the context of our vested security interests and concerns. From a broader perspective, I will identify the interplay of these interests and concerns with the issue of regional stability. I will attempt to identify the areas in which Iran’s potentials and capabilities can be utilized in the interest of regional as well as global peace and security.
Iran’s approach toward the issue of national security
Iran is a resourceful country blessed with vast territory, solid national identity and rich cultural heritage and tradition. Iran harbors no expansionist ambition in the conduct of its foreign relations. As the history of past two and a half century in the region shows, no conflict or war has ever been initiated by my country. The Islamic Republic of Iran views its security in a broad concept. Political, economic, cultural and military factors shape our multifaceted approach toward the issue of national security. Geopolitical imperatives together with our national development plans have fostered our nation’s prosperity in various fields at an era of globalization, rendering our national security as well as regional and global stability interlinked, interdependent and mutually reinforcing. As a major supplier of world’s energy and with a unique position for the transit of goods and energy in our region, Iran’s national interests can be defined and articulated only in interaction with regional and global factors.
Thus, any crisis and instability in our neighbors has immediate impact on Iran’s security. Equally, any possible instability in Iran will naturally have grave consequences not only for the region but also for global peace and security. This explains why my country so enthusiastically pursues a policy based on the expansion of good-neighborly relations, mutual respect and confidence building. Moreover, it shows why Iran on numerous occasions, including the case of troubled spots in Central Asia and Caucasus region, has endeavored to act as a mediator and stabilizing force.
Moreover, our constructive policy with respect to 1991 crisis in the Persian Gulf that helped in the termination of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, together with our pivotal role in assisting Afghani resistance to replace the Taliban regime, provide distinct illustrations of this approach. Crisis and tension in the region contradict Iran’s national interests. This dire reality teaches us to attempt to enhance our national security only through approaches which value and advocate integration, inclusion and constructive engagement rather than isolation, exclusion and confrontation. At times, the pursuit of this principled policy and approach has been costly for us. For example, this has been the case in combating drug trafficking springing from our eastern borders, mainly from Afghanistan, with its problem of terrorism and other forms of transnational crimes. Indeed, we continue to pay a heavy price in a battle that all members of the global community should shoulder their responsibility.
After this short preface, let me now deal very briefly with five topical issues: Iraq, regional stability, reform and democracy, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
By the same token, Iran follows the developments in Iraq with great concern. The collapse of Saddam regime, whose atrocities and aggressive policies caused untold misery and destruction for Iranian nation, Iraqi people and other nations in the region, indeed provides a great sense of relief for Iran and people of the region. It must be noted, however, that the consequences of the military intervention and occupation of Iraq by foreign forces continue to threaten the very security of Iraq and neighboring states. Persistence of disorder and violence coupled with the massive civilian casualties, pervasive destruction of social and economic infrastructures of Iraq and desecration of religious sanctuaries have been colossal.
The stakes are high and the costs are enormous as security appears to spiral out of control. Indeed, the scope and intensity of violence have raised serious questions about the real objectives of military intervention and occupation of Iraq. This murky situation is the outgrowth of underestimating the complexity of the region and the sensitivity of Iraqi people and other Muslim nations in the region to foreign occupation.
Given the historical realities and geopolitical imperatives, Iran considers the stability in Iraq as its own stability. From the ideological standpoint and pragmatic considerations, violence and chaos in Iraq run contrary to the national interests of Iran. Violence and chaos destroy the various infrastructures of Iraq, minimizing the chance of the emergence of Iraq as a free and democratic state. Naturally, the ensuing situation adversely affects my country. Indeed, had there been a democratic government in Iraq in the 1980s, the Iraqi invasion of Iran would have never transpired. Historical and cultural commonalities between the Iranian nation and Iraqi people make it essential that we lend our full support to territorial integrity, political independence and the establishment of a stable and democratic Iraq. Besides, we believe a multiethnic society based on tolerance is integral to a stable Iraq.
Needless to say that the economic prosperity of Iraq and expansion of economic, trade and cultural ties between two countries will contribute to further flourishing of Iran’s economy, especially in our border provinces with Iraq. We have unequivocally expressed our readiness to provide the necessary facilities for Iraq’s private and public sector to flourish in trade and other areas and also facilitate visits of pilgrims from either side. One may expect that such type of ties could empower moderate and constructive elements and contain militant forces. We believe that coalition forces should give way to development of such type of relationship between Iraq and its neighbors. Indeed, misperception and the obsession on the part of the United States with respect to Iran’s influence and role in Iraq is a major obstacle in utilizing Iran’s potentials to help Iraqi people and the Interim Government of Iraq to restore normalcy and stability in that country. Undoubtedly, reliance on common interests, rather than differences, would be instrumental in interaction and engagement among regional and global actors to stabilize the situation in Iraq
We believe that the Iraqi people have the right and ability to determine their destiny. Based on this conviction, Iran was the first country in the region that welcomed the creation of the Governing Council and subsequently lent its support to the establishment of the Interim Government of Iraq. A free, independent and a prosperous Iraq with a government representing all classes in society, including a fair representation for the Shiite majority, and the holding free and fair elections as scheduled, are essential steps toward the realization of full sovereignty of Iraq and its stability.
The collapse of Saddam regime and new security environment in the region render it imperative that countries in the Persian Gulf region under UN umbrella and in partnership with concerned parties design and articulate a framework for regional security cooperation. A quarter century of attempts embodied in the imposition of war, unilateral sanctions, isolation and containment, on the part of certain powers against my country as well as the latest militaristic adventurism in Iraq, have not helped to enhance tranquility and stability in the region. This disastrous course must be reversed in the interest of regional and global peace and security. The establishment of this framework will help all concerned parties replace mistrust and arms race with mutual confidence and security.
Reform process and Democracy
The necessity of good governance in the light of drastic demographic changes and pressing requirements of new generations in the region, characterized by the emergence of complex sets of diverse and pluralistic forces, make the reform process in the region irreversible and all the more essential. The reform process with a view toward promoting greater participation, respect for the rule of law and human rights is a pressing issue in the region. However, as the 20th century demonstrated, states could not simply remake the world or abbreviate historical transformation, and as the experience of recent military intervention in our region so profoundly demonstrate, foreign armies cannot bring democracy. We must abandon the illusion that reform and democracy can be dictated from outside. Foreign powers interventions as such tend to spawn resistance and undesirable outcome. It goes without saying that this approach risks falling into irrelevance and further complicates reform process in the countries in the region, including my country. Indeed, a true reform process and democracy must be home grown and country-specific, rather than being imposed from outside.
While condemning terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, Iran has taken a comprehensive, non-discriminatory and non-selective approach toward fighting terrorism effectively. Being a victim of terrorism, including acts of terror perpetrated by Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and the MEK, my country has actively been engaged in fulfilling its responsibility in this respect. It is unfortunate that military intervention in Iraq caused the deflection of global community from the original course of action against terrorism. As a result, terrorist groups have intensified their activities in Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the world. The application of double standards on the part of Washington in this respect has complicated this daunting task.
The United States has given protection as non-combatants under the Geneva Convention to MEK in Iraq; a terrorist group defined by the United States and European countries as terrorist. It is important to remember that misguided policies of the United States against Iran created two destructive forces in the region, namely Saddam Regime and the Taliban. This new double standard policy sets a dangerous precedent and, indeed, is a major setback and serious blow to global campaign against terrorism. We firmly believe that the new status given to the MEK by Washington can be a prelude for the creation of another destructive force which would equally endanger the security and interests of nations within and without the region. This perilous approach entails tremendous costs for the region as well as the United States.
Nuclear Technology Program
My country’s peaceful nuclear program cannot be addressed in isolation, especially without due attention to the approach of the Islamic Republic of Iran with respect to the issue of national security in its broad concept which I have attempted to briefly highlight and contextualize here.
Iran lives in a dangerous region. The outbreak of three wars in our region in the span of a quarter century clearly demonstrates the volatility of the situation in our region. Yet, in spite of this reality, our national defense strategy remains a defensive one and WMD, including nuclear weapons, have no place in this strategy. This principled approach is based on strategic and ideological reasons. Nuclear weapons or a nuclear weapons option do not diminish Iran’s vulnerability or enhance its influence, and will in fact do the exact opposite.
As a member state to all non-proliferation and disarmament instruments and mindful of its obligations and rights driven from these instruments, Iran attaches utmost importance to the rights of states parties to develop technology for peaceful use of nuclear energy. Given the clear rights foreseen in the NPT for peaceful application of nuclear energy and in view of the high rate of economic growth, coupled with increasing rate in domestic energy consumption, Iran is determined to guarantee its energy security through diversifying the sources of energy for current and next generation.
Indeed, Iran’s peaceful nuclear program is a step in this direction. It represents a national project geared toward strengthening the scientific and technological infrastructures of the country. Blessed with the entire nation’s support, all governments in my country, over the past recent decades, have pursued this task in conformity with Iran’s international obligations. Indeed, our nation views this program and its development as a symbol of national dignity, making it imperative for any government to comply with this legitimate national demand. Iran’s need to peaceful use of nuclear energy was even recognized in the 1978 by the United States when the States Department underlined that Iran needs to diversify its sources of energy, including in the nuclear field.
To address any concern of the international community in regard to the nature of our nuclear program and to enhance confidence, Iran has been in full and transparent cooperation with the IAEA. Iran has signed the Additional Protocol and fully implementing it even before its ratification by our parliament. In this context, my country has undertaken commitments well beyond its contractual obligations, including voluntary suspension of uranium enrichment. After over 800 person-days of intrusive inspection of Iran’s nuclear sites carried out by the IAEA, this agency has found no evidence that Iran is pursuing a nuclear military program. The IAEA has confirmed in its latest report on Iran’s nuclear program presented to September meeting of the Board of Governors that cooperation of Iran has helped resolve most of the outstanding issues. The few remaining issues can be addressed in the same spirit of cooperation as admitted by the Director General of the IAEA in his report to the said meeting.
We continue to comply with our obligations under the NPT and its safeguard system. However, my country cannot accept any pressure and coercive measures directed at compromising our legitimate rights for the peaceful use of nuclear energy. We have made every effort to preclude the effects of the persistence of abnormality in relationship between the United States and my country on our constructive engagement with the IAEA. The United States has thus far failed to put this engagement in to proper context. We strongly believe that any attempt aimed at derailing our constructive engagement with IAEA into a political issue would turn out to be counter productive. It destroys not only the requisite atmosphere conducive to dialogue and cooperation but it also undercuts the very credibility of the non-proliferation instruments.
To conclude, I can not but stress that what our region needs is a new security paradigm taking into account the vested national interests of countries in the region; a paradigm that cultivates inclusion and integration, utilizing the regional capabilities in the interest of peace and stability at national, regional and global levels. The old security paradigm advocated by certain powers in our region tends to sow discord and conflict rather than nurturing tranquility and stability. Our national interests compel us to explore all possible ways to peacefully resolve any crisis and conflict in our region. My discussion here shows that Iran values this approach, conceptually and practically. We continue to act judiciously and stand ready to shoulder our responsibility in this respect.