Palestinisation of Iran's diplomacy a major obstacle for the regime
By Ahmad Ra'fat
Florence 26 June (IPS) The "Palestinisation" of Iranian diplomacy and Iranian approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are the "biggest obstacles" to the "development" of Iranian foreign relation and its "modernisation", according to a prominent French expert on Iranian and Afghanistan affairs.
Speaking at a one-day conference organised by Mr. Rouzbeh Parsi, of Sweden's Lund University and Ms. Valerie Amiroux of France and held on 23 June at the European University's Robert Schumann Research Centre in Florence to discuss the aftermath of the recent presidential elections in Iran, Mr. Olivier Roy observed that President Mohammad Khatami's foreign diplomacy has remained very much the same as it was under his predecessor "except in the use of words and expressions".
As an example, he said, one hear more the name of Israel instead of the official Zionist entity, the same for America and United States that have replaced Great Satan, "but, he added, the basic fundament of Iran's diplomacy remains unchanged, prisoner of the policy adopted vis-à-vis the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, an attitude that prevents any development of Iran's diplomacy as a modern tooll in international relations".
In his view, the present impasse in Tehran-Washington relations is also the result of this "Palestinisation" of Iranian diplomacy and any normalisation in the ties with the United States depends to the solution of this basic problem.
In Mr. Roy's opinion, the Islamic Republic does not have a foreign policy in the western sense of the art, sharing the view of many Iranian political analysts.
"The foreign policy of the Islamic Republic is the clearest, simplest and most straight forward than any other in the world, as it comes down to two or three slogans: Death to America; death to Israel and death to any other nation that does something our leaders do not like", pointed out an outspoken Iranian analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The purge of almost all former diplomats undertaken by the clerical rulers after the victory of the Islamic Revolution has badly deprived the regime of experienced men.
This tragic shortage of seasoned diplomats led to the dramatic set backs the Foreign Ministry suffered in Afghanistan, in Central Asia and now in the Caspian Sea regions at the hands of Pakistan, Turkey and Russia.
"The question of defining a legal status for the Caspian Sea and securing Iran's legitimate rights and interests in this region is the illustration of the regretful failure of our diplomacy", said Dr. (Mrs.) Elaheh Koola'i, a reformist deputy of the Majles and a university professor.
Commenting for the independent Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) the outcomes of the inconclusive meeting of the Caspian Sea's littoral states deputy foreign ministers held recently in Baku, Dr. Koola'i blamed Iranian Foreign Ministry's "lack of vision, inattention to changes occurring in international relations and stubbornness on a strategy unconnected to international facts and outside of the country's potentials"
"What we are witness to in the Caspian Sea is the result of our constant concessions made to Russia and other states in the region because of our antagonism and hostility to the United States. As a result, Washington has adopted the policy of "all except Islamic Republic and Russia", with the difference that we don't have the same potentials and possibilities Moscow posses in dealing with nations of Central Asia, the Caucasus and particularly the Caspian Sea", she observed.
Mr. Roy attributed the normalisation scored by the Khatami Administration in bilateral relations with traditional governments of the Persian Gulf, like Saudi Arabia to "internal factors" in the one hand and the détente with neighbouring nations to his desire to "limit" the power of the Revolutionary Guards, "one of his most urgent and important preoccupation", he said.
Though Mr. Khatami's foreign policy is the continuation of that of the former president, yet there are some differences as well, particularly in the "choosing of Iran's strategic partners", Mr. Roy said, observing that while Mr. Hashemi-Rafsanjani had picked up Russia as the Islamic Republic's main strategic ally, Mr. Khatami has turned to the European Union.
"However, in both case, economic factors, and not a long term, well calculated strategic project and plan forms the fundament of these policies", he added.
Examining the "modernist thinking" in Iranian religious circles under the toppled Pahlavi dynasty and afterward, Mr. Morad Saqafi, the Editor of the monthly "Gogtegoo" (Dialogue) said all such efforts aimed at "modernising" the religion had failed, "for the simple fact that Shi'a Islam's basic tenets are "irreconcilable" with Western type democracy and republicanism.
"Both Dr. Ali Shariati before the Islamic revolution and Dr. Abdolkarim Soroosh after, had tried hard to reconcile Islam with modernity, but both failed in their efforts, for the simple reason that contradictions between the two philosophies are so deep rooted that hardly any space for coexistence exist", Mr. Saqafi said.
He said though he has high esteem for nationalist-Islamists such as Hojjatoleslam Mohsen Kadivar, Ayatollah Mojtahed Shabastari or Hojjatoleslam Hassan Yussefi Eshkevari (who is in solitary confinement in an undisclosed prison, charged of apostasy), yet doctrines as Islamic socialism or Islamic democracy (as defended by Hojjatoleslam Khatami) are empty words, as Islam does not accept any prefix or suffix.
"Nevertheless, Mr. Saqafi argues, in case the present gap in Iranian society widens further, Islamic intellectuals such as Kadivar, Soroosh, Alavitabar or Ganji would "inevitably" join the secular camp.
Mrs. Ziba Mir Hosseini, a London-based researcher who produced the "Iranian Divorce" TV documentary believes that what marks the Iranian society today is not the challenge between modernism and religion, but to find a way to make the two "accommodating each other"
Turning to the Iranian women's struggle for reaching their rights, Mrs. Mir Hosseini said after the "defeat" of the Baha'i reformist movement, the "futility" of efforts deployed by intellectuals like Mrs. Qoratol Eyn (one of the first Iranian women speaking out for the equality of rights between men and women) and the debacle of the political Islam, the lesson the Islamic revolution thought the Iranians is that the way to implement reforms is to get help from Western philosophy and not religion".