Asia Society, New York
September 28, 1998
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
It is a great pleasure for me to be here today. I thank Asia Society and its President, Ambassador Platt, for organizing this meeting. The international situation has changed significantly since I first addressed this society in 1992. The role of Asia in particular has continued to become more significant in shaping the international political and economic scene. Asia, as the largest continent of the world, displays a meticulously formed mosaic of a wide variety of peoples, societies, cultures and civilizations.
This ancient land hosts some of the oldest democracies while still tolerating sporadic instances of despotism. It is blessed with economic prosperity and rapid growth and development at the same time as it is doomed with abject poverty, economic stagnation and despair. Its contemporary history is scarred with some of the longest and most devastating conflicts, yet it remains the symbol and the land of peace, tranquility and tolerance. It is not without reason that Asia fascinates the world and events in Asia attract serious attention throughout the globe.
Some of the world's pressing economic, political and security dilemmas are unfolding in Asia. The East and South East Asia are facing economic woos whose ripple effects are felt around the globe following two consecutive decades of miraculous success. This is also affecting political stability domestically and regionally, and the area as a whole is filled with uncertainty.
South Asia has come under sharp international focus in the aftermath of nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan, which have caused concern in the region and beyond. Tension escalated as the result in the area and the future has become unpredictable. At the global level, nuclear non proliferation regime has also suffered a major setback. This has also added to the complexity of an already volatile situation in the Middle East and the threat posed by Israeli nuclear arsenal.
The Persian Gulf has gone through two atrocious wars which have resulted in excessive build-up of arms and a continuous erosion of confidence. As the largest source of world energy the Persian Gulf is in dire need of durable peace and stability. Security in the Persian Gulf is vital to sustained viability of the international economic and industrial development.
On the other side, challenge and opportunity are closely intertwined in Central Asia as the riches of the Caspian Sea invite new intricacies to the political and economic equation. International oil producers are showing much interest to explore the vast reserves lying over the land and under the sea, even as complex issues of complementation of the legal regime of this closed body of water remain to be settled. Central Asian Republics are, at the same time, undergoing the tumultuous process of state building and economic diversification.
In the greater political and geographic landscape of Central Asia, the unfolding developments in Afghanistan has given rise to a phenomenon which is fast turning into the gravest destabilizing force in the region and elsewhere. Taliban are not just a menace, massacring Afghans, suppressing women, trafficking in narcotics and arms and exporting terrorism, they are in fact an alarming tendency threatening the very fabric of Islamic societies from North Africa to South East Asia.
Situated on the web of such massive potential and turmoil, Iran becomes inadvertently wedded to all these prominent regional and global strategic issues and challenges. This, we realize places a massive burden and a natural responsibility on our shoulder; a responsibility historically shouldered by Iran emanating from its geo-strategic position on the crossing point of Asia from the rest of the world.
There is, therefore, direct and intrinsic bearing on Iran's domestic and international outlook. National interest for Iran cannot be divorced from these realities. Thus, regional stability and prosperity are not simply an option, but an absolute necessity for Iran.
Following 25 decades of autocratic rule, Iran, since the Islamic Revolution, is experimenting a unique process of establishment of democratic institutions on the basis of Islamic teachings, and thus presenting a model of a modern democratic religious government. This, we assert, is essential for durable long term stability of Iran and for ensuring its continuous and persistent contribution to the stability of the region. Building consensus in a polity with vast and extensive diversity of views and opinion and a free and active press can be indeed challenging and sometimes even painstakingly slow. This is particularly so with regard to foreign policy, as Iranians are heavily involved and interested in foreign affairs primarily due to our collective historical memory. We consider this an advantage and our point of strength that our foreign policy has to be articulated under the watchful eyes of the leadership, policy formulating institutions, opinion-makers, media, people and their representatives.
Recent polls have shown consistently that a significant majority of Iranians strongly support the direction of our foreign policy. According to one poll, taken three weeks ago, sixty eight percent approve the overall performance of the government in foreign affairs. Much of this is owed to President Khatami's emphasis on adopting policies and initiatives around the guiding principle of replacing confrontation and tension with dialogue and understanding; a policy that has also received the unreserved blessing of the leader of the Islamic Revolution.
Tension stems from a sense of supremacy, discrimination and exclusion. It seeks to stress on the negative and suppress the positive. It feeds on misperception and disinformation. It undermines mutual economic benefits to serve unilateral political interests. It breads intolerance, hostility and mistrust. It is in short a recipe for confrontation and instability.
Dialogue, instead, calls for parity of parties and searches common grounds for cooperation. It aims at friendship, tolerance and mutual understanding and confidence. It requires rationality, wisdom and transparency. It is in short a strategy for sustainable peace, tranquility and prosperity.
Active pursuit of this policy priority has resulted in a gradual but steady transformation of Iran's relations with its major partners in its neighborhood, the region and across the globe.