The Iranian Choice - An Opportunity to Embrace the Family of Nations: Speech by the Rt. Hon. Chris Patten

At the Institute for Political and International Studies, Tehran, Iran
February 5, 2003

It is a great pleasure for me to be here today during my first bilateral visit as Commissioner for External Relations to Iran.

Many of us are acutely aware of Persia's deep-rooted and manifold influence on human civilization - the art and literature emanating from this part of the world that have left a lasting mark on peoples and cultures far beyond the region. Yet as times have changed, many outsiders' particularly western outsiders' dominant perceptions of present-day Iran are clouded by more material events and preoccupations.

Time of change is also time of great opportunity. The challenge for Iran now is to bring the positive currents of progress and wisdom around which your history has revolved into harmonious step with the demands of our modern, interconnected world. To adapt certain forms so that they better cope with and meet the forces of change.

But as Andy Warhol said, "they always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself". This challenge is not just for Iran, of course, but for all of us. It lies beneath the whole endeavor of the European Union an almost constant balancing act between greater integration and cultural conservation, new values and old. It is not just a challenge of continuity and adaptation, but also an opportunity to reach new horizons, in which we share.

Already from 550 to 330 years BC, during the Achaemenid Empire under Cyrus the Great, Persia was a grand nation and it stretched from Pakistan to the Aegean coast. The world's first postal service came into being during that period! Relations with the rest of the world were not free from conflict, of course - the current EU Presidency, Greece, will be able to tell you as much about conflicts between Europe and Iran the Persian Wars- in those days!

Thankfully, relations nowadays between the EU and Iran have moved on, and are characterized by peaceful and civilized contacts. Our views do not coincide in each and every domain, of course - there remain significant gaps in our understanding and substantial differences in our practice of organizing and governing our societies. But I believe that today, more than for a long time, we share a new determination to build up our mutual understanding - and to work hard to ensure that the value of what we have in common eclipses the differences of the past.

For today's Iran is not only an ancient civilization and a regional power stretching from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf, endowed with an abundance of natural resources. It is an increasingly modern nation, with a potential to play a constructive role in the modern international community.

On several recent international issues, Iran has shown its emerging regional leadership. The reconstruction of Afghanistan, the fight against drugs, the management of refugee flows and the Kyoto Protocol are all issues on which the EU has found Iran to be a co-operative and committed partner. There have also been some Iranian initiatives also in the area of the global fight against terrorism, as we saw in the immediate aftermath of September 11.

Moving ominously to the present day, Iran's role in helping to manage the crisis in Iraq could yet prove to be another crucial area for fruitful collaboration.

The inevitability of the need for such co-operation among us is brought home daily as we witness the proliferation of any number of threats - environmental degradation, disease, famine, migration - that repeatedly transcend state borders. Money moves around the world at a speed and in quantities, which limit the ability of states to manage their economic affairs on their own. Electronic communications transmit ideas around the world in a way that governments cannot control. On top of all this there is a growing recognition that human rights are universally valid. Put all these things together and you see that no nation state, however mighty, is sufficient unto itself. Co-operation with our partners co-operation between the EU and Iran - is a requirement, not an ideal.

We have been living in a global economy ever since the sailing ship was first launched. Multiplying trade and the opening of markets in the last years of the nineteenth century, and the beginning of the massive movement of people within continents and between continents were plainly manifestations of globalization. But what is different today is that by destroying and cheapening distance, technology increases the impact of our interconnectedness, and speeds up the results good and bad.

By and large most people have seen their lives transformed by globalization. They live longer. They are healthier. And they are more prosperous. However while many people have seen real improvements in living standards, too many have been left behind. Throughout the 1990's 1.2 billion people around the world were living on less than a dollar a day. One fifth of humanity takes home four fifths of global income. During the next twenty years the world's population is set to grow from six to eight billion and most of this increase will be in the poorest countries.

With developments in nuclear physics in the 1920's we asserted the centrality of man, of the individual, in the sweep of history. But at the same time this scientific advance unlocked a terrible threat to man's very survival. I think there is a sense in which the forces represented by globalization pose the same dilemma today. The technology, which speeds up and increases the impact of globalization, can also empower the individual. But it has the capacity as well to bury the individual and devastate the communities that he cherishes.

For globalization is not only an economic process. It has a dark side. As I said earlier, we have to contend with drug trafficking, international organized crime, trafficking in human beings, terrorism, epidemic disease, money laundering and so on. And while the poorest suffer most from these evils, richer countries cannot isolate themselves from the effects of these problems. Europe sees an important part of its external role in helping to make globalization fairer and more acceptable to those who are presently marooned in misery. We cannot stop globalization. It would be like trying to stop time. But we can make it more balanced.

This is why the EU wants to reinforce its links with Iran and with nations all over the world.

I am convinced that there is a vital role that Iran, if it really wants to, can play on this international stage, among the Family of Nations. You may seize that role tomorrow, or in twenty years from now - the choice lies with you. Rome was not built in one day, nor was a democratic Europe or even the European Union created overnight. But the challenge - the imperative- of working with others is one that every modern society has to face.

As a regional power, Iran naturally takes the lead in certain ways. But to be truly positive regional influence must not only be economic. This is why I am encouraged by the role that your democratic institutions have played for some time now, and the emerging role of Iranian women in academic and professional life. By maintaining these examples, and perhaps going beyond regional reference points, Iran can reach a fuller international potential.

Nowhere is this truer than in the neighborhood that we share in the Middle East.

The EU is anxious that the Mediterranean does not become a geo-strategic fault-line with a prosperous Europe on one side and a poor Islamic world on the other. We must ensure that Samuel Huntington's thesis about the clash of civilizations does not become self-fulfilling. Recent surveys of opinion in Islamic countries gave a worrying picture of Islamic attitudes to Europe and America. To ignore such sentiments is perilous, to fuel them is to court self-destruction.

We in Europe have a particular responsibility, for reasons both historical and geographical, to deepen our dialogue with the Islamic world and to develop our political and economic partnership with countries of the Middle East and beyond. European and Islamic countries have shared a great deal of history, much of it turbulent. But we have learnt much from one another and our respective civilizations bear the imprint of our cultural interchange.

We have to build bridges not burn them there is probably no more important a task for us. My presence here is testament to the EU's wish to build such bridges with Iran too.

The bridge between the EU and Iran was set upon solid structural foundations just two months ago, when we started discussing Human Rights, without preconditions, in the framework of a new forum specifically set up for this purpose. Earlier in December, we launched the eagerly awaited negotiations on political dialogue, counter-terrorism, and a Trade and Co-operation Agreement. Those negotiations, by the way, will continue here in Tehran.

On the economic front, I am encouraged by several positive measures taken by the Government in order to meet the challenges ahead notably the unification of dual exchange rates, reduction of corporate taxes, and adoption of new investment law.

But I am also aware that despite these measures, the task of creating a sufficient number of new jobs for Iran's young and well-educated labour force appears nearly insurmountable. This is why a Trade and Co-operation Agreement with the world's leading trading block the EU- , soon to encompass 25 countries and close to half a billion citizens, is crucial to boost confidence in Iran among business people and investors.

A trade agreement with the EU would also prove extremely useful as a milestone towards Iranian membership of WTO, a principle, which the EU supports. Iran has simplified its trade barriers, which still remain high, through tariffs. But there is still much reform needed to address monopolies, privileged corporations and the transparent rule of law in general.

It would be disingenuous of me to avoid referring today to the important differences that we still have on some issues. When the Council the combined voice of the governments of all our 15 Member States agreed in June 2002 to launch negotiations on the Trade and Co-operation Agreement, it linked them umbilically to parallel negotiations on political dialogue and counter-terrorism, in a single, indissociable package. The Council also expressed its expectation to see early progress in certain key areas. To simplify, I would divide these into three - Human Rights, Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Middle East Peace Process.

On Human Rights, as you may know, the EU decided to abstain from tabling a country resolution on Iran at the UNGA in New York last autumn. This was not an easy decision but was done in order to give our emerging dialogue a chance. We will soon face the same issue at the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, and I cannot predict here the final EU position. At any rate, the Human Rights dialogue which was set in train in Tehran last December managed to start addressing the important issues of discrimination and prevention of torture. This dialogue must not only go on - but also result in concrete improvements on the ground. A definitive end to stoning practices, and adoption of an anti-torture bill, would be clear and positive indicators in this respect. I am pleased, as a first step, to note that Iran has extended invitations to thematic Human Rights rapporteurs from the UN.

Turning to weapons of mass destruction, I am also encouraged that IAEA inspectors have been invited to visit Arak and Natanz. Transparency is key, and Iran's signature of the international standard in this regard - the 'IAEA Additional Protocol', would send a most positive message, setting a regional lead and underlining serious international commitment. While we all accept that Iran has legitimate defence needs in a troubled region, I think that my EU colleagues and I would it find difficult to tolerate any programme aimed at stocking missiles of ever increasing range.

Finally, on the Middle East, you know as much as I do that Israel and the Occupied Territories have suffered appallingly in the last two and a half years. Over two and a half thousand Israelis and Palestinians have been killed and many more have been injured. These are indeed depressing times for advocates of a lasting peace. But we must not allow the carnage to breed fatalism. Nor to have the agenda set by the terrorists.

The EU has played a central role in building an emerging international consensus on the broad outlines of a final settlement. Last year's unanimous United Nations Security Council Resolution supports, for the first time, a two-state solution which guarantees an end to the Israeli occupation, a viable state for the Palestinians and security for Israel within its borders. This must offer hope - the EU is striving to make realisation of that hope possible.

Let us not for one moment condone inexcusable terrorism. There can be no justification for attacks that target civilians, either Israeli or Palestinian. The frequency and atrocity of these attacks are leading towards an oblivion where the feasibility of any two-state solution is questioned. The EU is adamant that this is the only solution, the only alternative to more mayhem and bloodshed.

Iran has called on the EU to take on a bigger role in the Middle East conflict. We indeed play a crucial role - through extensive co-operation - in the Palestinian reform process, aiming towards the creation of a viable Palestinian state, existing peacefully side by side with Israel.

I in turn call on Iran, and all friends of the Palestinians, to be partners in the process, bringing your influence to bear on Palestinian groups in order to help put the brakes on the cycle of violence.

In all these spheres - Human Rights, WMD (weapons of mass destruction) and the Middle East - I am hope that Iran will proceed with a balanced consideration of policies which are, of course, in its national interest. But also in line with its key regional role and its emerging international outlook and responsibility.

I am here only to encourage, not to impose or insist on a given path for Iran. But like many others I will follow your domestic debate and the resulting, evolving policy with great interest. As my Iranian counterparts have often underlined, open dialogue is prerequisite for good relations, the key to finding positive and co-operative ways forward. The EU and Iran have sought to build a Comprehensive Dialogue since 1998. This is now entering a new phase, where in order to progress, it must become more dynamic, and deliver more concrete results.

The benefits of a productive relationship between Iran and the EU are potentially enormous, for both parties. Not least among our purposes is the desire to assist and encourage Iran to realise its full potential on the international stage. We wish to help foster that adaptation, whist respecting the value of continuity.

Whether Iran is ready to shoulder an enlarged international responsibility is a critical question that of course rests with the Iranian people and its leadership.

The EU is ready to engage with Iran, not just for the benefit of each of our own peoples, but because we are convinced that many others could benefit too.