Suddeutsche Zeitung Interview with Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer on the Reform Movement in Iran (Excerpts)

July 13, 2000

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  • Iran

On the Iranian President Khatami's visit to Germany

For me, Iran policy is not about business. I wouldn't overestimate that. The process of democratic reform under President Khatami has great potential for human rights, democracy, peace and stability in a region which is extremely dangerous also for us. We want to guide relations forward. Now we are tackling the problems in a realistic and clear fashion. The visit was an important milestone in our relations. It was not an easy step for either side.

On the question of Iran as a military threat

It will become even more important that we engage in patient diplomacy to integrate Iran into the community of nations. There must be no irrational reactions involving weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems anywhere in the world. US policy on North Korea is a good example of preventive diplomacy. The planned US missile defence system shows that we have to approach the countries which threaten to drift away. And if these countries draw closer to the international community and all its norms, we ought to support the trend wholeheartedly. If we examine the projected crisis regions of the coming decades, our eyes drift from the Balkans eastwards to the Middle East and Central Asia. Here we have a mix of political instability, fanaticism, highly controversial economic interests and stockpiles of weapons. Iran is coming to the fore more and more as a potential stability factor. We are most concerned that Russia offers no political solution for northern Caucasia - such as a Russian stability pact. Southern Caucasia, Central Asia's oil and gas reserves - this needs regional stabilization and peaceful resolution.

On dialogue with Iran

We discuss all issues with Tehran and we do so in a very direct manner - for example Iran's attitude to the Middle East peace process, support for the Hizbollah, relations with Israel. We also deal with human rights and all individual cases. You cannot compare the previous Iranian leadership with today's reformers. Khatami is pursuing a policy of openness. Hence the concept of critical dialogue does not apply at all. It meant that relations were continued in an era with no hope of reform, although everyone knew that considerable burdens were imminent. I am the first to admit that I had quite different ideas when I went to Tehran in March. But I was surprised by the potential for civil society. Apart from Israel and the Palestinians, Iran is probably the region's most promising country in this field. So we have to support the right people. Iran will not regress to the situation before the Islamic independence revolution of 1979. There will be no notable political power who will let the country fall back into the dependence trap it was in before 1979. This is what modernizers have in common with the Islamic revolution. That is also why foreign influence is a double-edged sword. We therefore have to be suitably sensitive to the reform forces, because we can otherwise rapidly trigger negative effects in Iranian home affairs. At the end of the day, the question will be: how can modernization be combined with a theocratic constitution? Today, the question goes unanswered. Important as foreign trade relations may be, we cannot let them be the primary yardstick in foreign policy. During my talks with President Khatami and Foreign Minister Kharrazi (the question of human rights) dominated. With our approach of openness, firmness and understanding for the pressures of the other side, we were successful in the Hofer case - and we will continue to adopt this approach.

On cultural exchange

Re-launching cultural exchange is crucial for our mutual relations. Cultural exchange is growing in importance, also with a view to democratic fundamental values, the rule of law - they are not just a feature of Western cultures. This principle stands true the world over. But there are still some difficult hurdles to be overcome here. Even in Iran itself, this has led to an intense debate. The murder of authors and the suppression of the freedom of the press are unacceptable. Thus we support all those who want to bring the country forward with a view to the respect of human rights, the freedom of the press and freedom of opinion. These democrats are performing an exceedingly courageous but very risky task. They deserve our full support not our disapproval.