In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Distinguished scholars and academicians Ladies and Gentlemen
It gives me great pleasure to address this gathering of distinguished academicians and scholars. I wish to express my gratitude to the Columbia University, in particular Dean Lisa Anderson and Professor Gary Sick for their kind efforts in organizing such a warm meeting. The prominent status of the Columbia University in promoting insight and knowledge is well-known. In fact, Academicians and scholars play a significant role to inject well-thought ideas and perspectives into the planning and conduct of foreign policy. At a time when the American foreign policy faces tremendous challenges, this role is becoming all the more important. I hope our discussion, today, serves this purpose.
I would like to begin today by reviewing where the relation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States stands in terms of history of American interventions in the region and the misguided policies pursued toward Iran as new realities unfolding in postwar Iraq. Given the complex nature and broad scope of problems associated with the Iran-United States relation, I will also attempt to identify what our priorities should be at this critical juncture with a view toward building confidence and charting the road and guideline for constructive engagement between Tehran and Washington.
The effects of US misguided policies and behavior
Nearly five months after the end of major military operation in Iraq, the ensuing situation signifies a perplexing outlook for that country and the region as a whole. Disorder, violence, instability and serious disruption of social and economic infrastructures of Iraq are the distinct outcome of an unlawful war in the region.
The collapse of Saddam regime, whose brutal behavior and atrocities caused untold misery and destruction for the Iraqi people and other nations in the region, especially Iran, is indeed a great sense of relief for Iran and people of the region.
It must be underscored, however, that the illusion advocated by some to fuel instability in the region to secure long -term American interests has posed a serious threat to the regional and global peace and security. This illusion, which stems largely from ignoring the lessons of past interventions as well as insufficient knowledge of certain circles in Washington of complexities of issues in the realm of politics and culture in the region, must be abandoned because of its perilous consequences for global peace and security.
Few weeks ago coincided with the 50th anniversary of the US-led coup in Iran that resulted in the collapse of a national elected government in my country. The outcome was the reinstatement of a despotic ruler in Iran for a quarter century. That intervention of the United States in internal affairs of a sovereign state has left a disturbing mark on the memory of the Iranian people and to this very day characterizes a sad period of United States-Iran relations. Moreover, that approach set a dangerous precedent in the conduct of American foreign policy toward the region that continues to persist to present time. The military and political interventions in the region based on imperial ambitions have been the outgrowth of this approach.
Contemporary history testifies to the destructive implications of the above-mentioned approach on regional peace and stability. The pursuit of misguided policies and behavior by the United States embodied in the imposition of unilateral sanctions, isolation and containment against Iran after the victory of the Islamic Revolution, together with the provision of various assistance to Saddam Hussein in waging an aggressive war against my country are clear outcomes of this approach.
The ill-defined vision and interventionist policies with respect to the region have fueled and intensified wars and conflicts and caused irreparable damages to invaluable human and material resources of the region. This modus operandi and way of thinking in Washington leave no room for dialogue and cooperation, especially as they tend to deal with emerging issues of global nature single-handedly. Hence, it is not surprising that the dramatic momentum generated in the wake of events of September11 tragedy to consolidate combat of international community against terrorism has faded away, in large part due to the persistence of the aforementioned vision and approach in American foreign policy.
Emboldened by the deflection of global community from the original course of action against terrorism, terrorist groups have intensified their activities aimed at engulfing the entire region and the world in a state of chaos and instability. The outcome is abundantly seen in the alarming trend of re-assertiveness of Al Qaeda and Taliban. It is unfortunate that the myopic view of certain circles in Washington has made our region more vulnerable to radical forces and extremists. Equally, as evidenced by recent developments, American invasion of Iraq has accentuated extremism in the region and exacerbated the terrorist threat both inside Iraq and outside. Moreover, it has undermined regional endeavors to enhance cooperation and confidence-building.
It is thus essential that this flawed vision in American foreign policy toward the region, in particular with respect to my country, give way to policies based on past lessons, insight and sober understanding of complexities of the region. Chief among them the sensitivities of Muslim people in particular in the face of foreign occupation and intervention. The priorities for constructive engagement I would like, now, to examine briefly the areas which may help the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States to build and enhance confidence and open up new chapter in their relations.
Iran's potentials and dynamics
Blessed with solid national identity, vast natural resources and rich cultural heritage and tradition, Iran is widely viewed as a pivotal country in the politics of both the Middle East and Central Asia. Our strategic location, including the largest coastline on the Persian Gulf and long borders with Iraq and Afghanistan, is inextricably linked to our national security concerns. It is obvious that any approach toward Iran which fails to take into account these imperatives risks falling into irrelevance. Language of threat against Iran is doomed to fail, while Iran's potentials and dynamics can be utilized in the interests of peace and stability.
Furthermore, in a world characterized by globalization, the people's drive to gain a say over policies that affect them is a powerful force. The reform process geared towards greater participation, respect for the rule of law and human rights is an urgent need of the region. Given the characteristics of the region, however, indigenous models of reform and participation should be encouraged and cultivated. In this context, it must be noted that the imposition of models that are incompatible with these characteristics will simply fail to stand the test of changing circumstances. The expansion of civil society and democratic institutions is fraught with uncertainties. This has been the case in regard to the reform process in Iran. Indeed, this is an ongoing irreversible homegrown process that must be encouraged-not manipulated- by outside powers. The intervention of the United States as such tends to spawn resistance and undesirable outcome.
National security of Iran is closely linked with the developments of Iraq. We view the restoration of normalcy and stability in our neighboring country not only in the interest of the Iraqi people but also in conformity with our vested national interests. We believe that the Iraqi people have the right and the ability to determine their destiny. Drawing upon this conviction, Iran was the first country in the region that welcomed the creation of the Governing Council and immediately sent a high ranking delegation to Iraq to initiate dialogue and cooperation between two neighboring Muslim countries. The most urgent task facing the occupying forces is to accelerate the process of empowering Iraqi people as an important and initial step toward restoring their full sovereignty and political independence. To make the transitional period less unpredictable and costly, we firmly believe that the United Nations should take a lead and play a central role in this respect.
Motivated by its national security imperatives, Iran can play a constructive role in containing extremism. The more respect for the vested legitimate interests of Iran, the more active role my country can play in the interest of Iraqi people as well as regional peace and security. Common crucial interests in Iraq such as territorial integrity, stability, fair representation for Shiite majority and WMD disarmament are strong incentives to initiate constructive engagement in this area.
While condemning terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, Iran has taken a comprehensive, non-discriminatory and non-selective approach toward fighting terrorism effectively. With its long borders to the East, the collapse of the Taliban Regime provided Iran with the pressing issues in its combat against terrorism. Being a victim of terrorism, including acts of terror perpetrated by Taliban and Al-Qaeda, My country has actively been engaged in fulfilling its responsibility in this respect. Iran, perhaps, has already arrested and extradited more Al-Qaeda people than anyone else. Yet, it is unfortunate and somewhat ironic that our pivotal role in this area and in helping the establishment of the Interim Government in Afghanistan was reciprocated by labeling Iran as "Axis of Evil." The approach of certain circles to not only tolerate the presence of the MEK terrorist group in Iraq but also give them free hand to pursue their activities against my country is a serious blow to global campaign against terrorism. This double-standard approach must be reversed in order to provide conditions for constructive engagement in combating terrorism.
Insecurity and drug trafficking in Afghanistan, which give rise to terrorism and other forms of transnational crimes, pose a serious threat to our national security, and undermine the interest of the people of Afghanistan, and the international community as a whole. A surge in hostile activities by terrorist elements and drug traffickers in that country is an alarming sign that must be taken seriously. Iran has paid a heavy price in combating terrorism and drug trafficking which, indeed, is the responsibility of all members of global community. The provision of required assistance including detecting and communicating equipments and technologies by developed countries will enable Iran to conduct, more effectively, its combat against terrorists and drug traffickers.
Designing and articulating a framework for regional security cooperation among Persian Gulf countries under UN umbrella may constitute another area of common concern and interest. In fact, the idea of creation of a regional security arrangement is a long-sought objective of Iran's foreign policy. My country's proposal toward this objective was first advanced in the early 1980s. The collapse of Saddam regime has paved the way for achieving this objective. Now, new security environment in the region renders it imperative that concrete steps be taken in that direction. A genuine arrangement towards this goal will yield enormous benefits for not only regional states but also for other members of international community. The establishment of this framework will help all concerned parties replace mistrust and arms race with mutual confidence and security.
Iran is a member of all non-proliferation and disarmament instruments, including CWC, BWC and the NPT. WMD have no place in our national defense strategy. We firmly believe that the possession of WMD will undermine rather than strengthen our security imperatives. Apart from contractual obligations, religious and ethical considerations make our commitment to these instruments a truly solid one. We have no clandestine nuclear program and are fully committed to continue our transparent work with the IAEA to address all technical outstanding issues in regard to our peaceful nuclear activities. Any attempt geared to changing our constructive engagement with the IAEA to a political issue will be counter productive and only destroys the requisite atmosphere for dialogue and cooperation. Iran attaches great importance to the rights of states parties to non-proliferation and disarmaments instruments to develop technology for peaceful purposes. Given the vast application of chemical, biological and nuclear materials, equipment and technology for peaceful purposes and their undeniable role for the economic and social development and progress of the developing countries, Iran is determined to exercise the rights foreseen in international instruments in this regard. Indeed, the rapid pace of the use of fossil energy related to the high rate of economic growth in my country compels us to develop alternative renewable sources of energy for next generation. The partnership of western countries in projects of this type in my country may help build confidence with respect to our peaceful nuclear activities.
To conclude, I can not but stress that what our region needs is not further foreign intervention or threat to pre-emptive strikes. These are not panacea for complex and chronic issues in the region. The current American policy with respect to Iran is untenable, both morally and strategically. Instead of the pursuit of policies based on dangerous assumptions with costly and yet unpredictable outcome, Washington must pursue policies imbued with wit and wisdom taking into account the vested national interests of others. It will take, indeed, enormous will and focused diplomacy to reverse the negative impacts of the misguided policies and behavior with respect to our region. It is high time that Washington pursues rational, well-thought and realistic policies in this area. It is also essential for the international community to act judiciously in this regard. The United Nations, whose credibility was severely undermined in the course of events leading up to the recent military intervention in Iraq, must reassert its relevance and prime responsibility for the maintenance of global peace and security. Towards this end, my country stands ready and resolute to share its responsibility.