Remarks by H.E. Dr. Kamal Kharrazi
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.
A better understanding of Iran and Islamic Revolution seems to be emerging. The fixated and frozen images are crumbling. Iranophobia is on the retreat and anti-Iranian commodities are no longer marketable in the market place of strategy and politics. The election of President Khatami reopened the eyes of the world to the realities of today's Iran and cleared the dust that had covered the air for two decades. This, of course, was only natural. The image of Islam -- the religion of compassion, tolerance and justice, and the name of Iran -- the cradle of civilization and culture, as well as the positive role of true Islam in the daily lives of Iranian people and their government could not for long be obscured under a campaign of misinformation and defamation.
The OIC Summit in Tehran was indeed a turning point as it provided an opportunity to enhance common understanding among Muslim states and to rejuvenate efforts towards peace and permanent friendship and a momentum for a more friendly environment.
On the bilateral level, Iranian-Arab relations are improving on a rapid pace. Our relations with all Persian Gulf Arab states are evolving to a solid bind, in line with the strong wish and desire of our nations. Our ties with Saudi Arabia are serving particularly to strengthen security and stability in the Persian Gulf and the Muslim world at large. Let me reiterate here the invitation issued last week by President Khatami in the General Assembly to countries in the Persian Gulf to embark upon the formation of a security and cooperation arrangement in this area.
You have all seen the steady progress in Iran-Europe relations. As you are aware, there has been a tremendous amount of economic relationship with the European countries. The political interaction, however, had lagged behind for some time. Reassessing the indispensable role of Iran, Europe seems now to have prepared itself for a fuller engagement in all areas including political relationships. We have welcomed this, as we too believe that Europe's role in promoting peace and security in the region can be useful. And I believe there is a lot of potential that together we can and will explore.
Interest in Europe and elsewhere in investment in Iran is rapidly growing in all areas including in the oil and gas sector. Several major downstream and upstream projects in the oil and gas field are on the table for participation of European, Russian, Canadian, Japanese and other major oil companies. Negotiations are being held to prepare long term contracts on exploration, marketing and transit, including pipeline projects. Iran is also involved with its partners in discussions in the areas of mining, heavy and light industries, telecommunications, road and transport, and other fields. Our Administration is making the necessary adjustments to facilitate and protect foreign investment. This constitutes a major component of President Khatami's recent economic revitalization program.
The United States in the meantime is still struggling to appreciate and adapt to the new realities and is stagnated in revising its policy and approach. The new tone of Secretary Albright's June 17 statement towards the Islamic Republic and the great Iranian nation, which was later echoed by President Clinton, indicates a departure from the past. Some have interpreted these changes as representing an emerging tendency to revisit past US policies. Indeed, the real meaning and value of these new words become evident once they are corroborated by a change of American policy against Iran. This is particularly the case as the United States still speaks with multiple voices, and hence a change of tone by itself does not connote a commitment for substantive policy revision.
While we see the emergence of a new tone in the United States, old unfounded allegations are yet to cease. It is evident that prolongation of outdated behavior, and sole reliance on variation in verbiage, can simply not provide the necessary basis for an invitation to political dialogue. I must underline that Iran builds its relations with other states on independence, parity and mutual respect and behavior that undermines these principles cannot be accepted.
Following the collapse of the communist bloc, the world is fast moving away from a uni-polar international order. But, in our view, the United States political leadership remains preoccupied with cold war mentality and has fallen behind fundamental changes on the eve of the new millennium.
In her description and analysis of the US foreign policy towards Iran, Secretary Albright intends apparently to justify the wrongful past. A clear indication is the attempt to explain American support for the Shah's authoritarian regime on the pretext of containing the spread of global totalitarian influence. The US direct intervention in the 1953 military coup which resulted in years of suppression and torture and deprivation of Iranian people from their liberty and civil rights has thus been considered as exigencies of the Cold War; exigencies which gave way to prolonged presence of suppressive regimes from Israel to South Africa and from Latin America to Asia.
With same reasoning the United States continues its one-sided support of Israel which, in practice, has encouraged Israel's expansionist policies against the rightful demands and will of the Palestinians, Moslems and peoples and governments of the region. The presentation of such unreasonable rationalizations for past policies keeps the Iranian people from gaining mutual confidence in the future.
American people have become evermore aware, I believe, that current US policies betray their interests more than anyone else; a nation that deserves to participate in and share on equal footing man's progress towards a better future. We anticipate that the US Government too would sooner or later conclude that its policies undermine US credibility and interests.
In a new world with complex problems that demand multilateral cooperation, the United States has become conspicuous for its unilateralism and lack of commitment to international law. The United States has imposed unilateral sanctions against seventy countries. Not merely other states, but in fact American investors and companies have suffered from these policies. Hence, a decision by the United States to live up to its international undertakings would be instrumental in allaying the concerns of the people throughout the world.
US policies aimed at retarding economic prosperity of Iran and the region remain in place, despite their harmful implications for free and rule-based global commerce and trade on the one hand, and regional stability and progress on the other. Direct and secondary sanctions against Iran and its American and third country trading partners are being vigorously pursued. The United States even continues to actively oppose and obstruct, to the detriment of American companies and European and regional countries, the transfer of gas and oil from Central Asia and the Caucasus through Iran, neglecting economic, technical and environmental advantages of this option.
Economic pressure against the Islamic Republic of Iran is also being applied through continuation of freezing of Iranian assets and properties, exertion of influence in international financial, monetary and trade organizations against Iranian interests and impeding the transfer of advanced technology for peaceful purposes to Iran.
While maintenance of international peace and security is the declared global priority of the United States, and in spite of Secretary Albright's recognition of the role the Islamic Republic in regional security and stability, US efforts to sabotage this undeniable constructive and pivotal role continue to be commonplace.
Interference in internal affairs of Iran has also persisted with little regard for bilateral and international obligations of the United States. The unlawful congressional allocation of budget to undermine the Iranian Government remains a part of US law, which was recently further augmented by the establishment of a radio station to wage a propaganda campaign against the Islamic Republic. Official organs of the United States Government have yet to cease their financial and political support for Iranian terrorists who continue to operate in the US territory through front organizations.
Meanwhile, the United States has construed any resistance against aggression and occupation as terrorism, thereby considering sympathy for victims of such aggression and occupation as support and sponsorship of terrorism. Moving from such erroneous perception, the United States imposes unlawful coercive measures against those countries who are unwilling to compromise on their dignity and independence.
We are determined to follow the balanced policy of expansion of relations with countries in the region as well as other countries. Logically, the United States' active pursuit of the policies I have already outlined and the absence of visible signs of its intention or ability to change course are hardly compatible with the proposal to develop a road map to change the state of affairs. This is because there is no ground for political negotiations, while these policies continue. In line with underlying principles of our foreign policy, the approach of the Islamic Republic of Iran towards the United States will be commensurate with changes in US behavior towards Iran.
Let me once again reiterate that Iran -- in keeping with its fundamental beliefs, its deep-rooted civilizational heritage and the principles of the Islamic Revolution, which laid the foundations of our Republic -- seeks a peaceful and tranquil global order of human dignity and mutual respect. It is on this sound foundation that we have encouraged dialogue between nations and cultures, and embarked upon eliminating tension as our top foreign policy priority.
In his last week's address to the General Assembly, President Khatami highlighted the need to focus global attention on the promotion of dialogue among cultures and civilizations. He invited the international community to begin the next millennium with a renewed commitment to strengthen the foundations of mutual confidence and to designate the year 2001 as the United Nations Year of Civilizational Dialogue.
It was with this mind set and approach that President Khatami took the initiative of establishing dialogue with the American people. He relied on the two peoples to foster mutual understanding and remove misperceptions and mistrust. And with that he elevated the level of discourse between Iranian and American people from engulfment in daily politicking to dialogue and mutual enrichment between two cultures and civilizations. In spite of wide reactions within the United States and elsewhere in the world to President Khatami's interview, its magnitude and depth are yet to be fully grasped.
President Khatami followed the initiative of launching people-to- people contacts by opening a new door in his gathering with leading American and foreign journalists in New York last week, by announcing that Iran will not block the participation of American business community in Iranian economic projects. This, for our part, paves the road for economic engagement.
In other areas, there are other important issues of global concern where Iran is prepared to participate actively and constructively. I wish to stress three important areas: the international campaign against narcotics, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
Iran is on the front line of the global war on narcotic trafficking. We concurred in last week's meeting on Afghanistan that the war is becoming ever more dangerous and deadly as Taliban, with their official patronage of drug lords, are gaining more territory in Afghanistan. This is a fight that requires massive resources, political will and international cooperation and coordination.
The same resolute determination is required in the fight against terrorism. It is evident that all should condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and regardless of its victims or perpetrators. We certainly do so. As we have seen time and again, this is not a menace that could be eradicated through accusations, politically motivated statements or coercive measures, and can only be tackled through serious, global and transparent cooperation, depriving all terrorists, and I underline all, of opportunities to carry out their deadly game. We detect some signs that such cooperation may be emerging, we welcome it, and we will always be ready for it. As a step in this direction, Iran and Russia issued a joint statement on terrorism on Saturday, which inter alia indicated our agreement that States should not give safe haven to terrorists or allow or acquiesce that terrorists and their associates use their territories to instigate, plan, finance or support terrorist activities in other countries. We also declared our commitment to become party to international instruments in this regard at the earliest possible time. Let me underline that international cooperation of this sort can be instrumental in eradicating this global problem.
Finally, the threat of weapons of mass destruction can only be removed by eradicating them. While we have already made good progress on biological and chemical weapons -- and Iran has been and will remain an active participant in all these arrangements, agreement on the total elimination of all nuclear weapons is yet to materialize. The recent tests in South Asia have shown the urgency of this global imperative, but at the same time underlined the necessity of international cooperation to prevent a fading of the credibility of the non-proliferation regime. Iran has indicated its readiness to actively contribute to the Task Force to strengthen the NPT. And as a preliminary step, Iran has been promoting the idea of nuclear weapon free zones.
Let me conclude by stressing that the end of the cold war has provided an opportunity to move beyond old conceptions of exclusion and confrontation and define new outlooks and policies on the solid foundations of dialogue and understanding. Iran has taken the initiative in spearheading the global campaign to promote this in words and deeds. We invite all others to seriously consider the imperative of taking far-sighted practical steps to break away from old mentalities and practices.