Iran plays up its peacemaker role

On Tuesday, in his brief meeting with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon asked for Iran’s assistance with the political process in Iraq and expressed appreciation for Tehran’s mediating role in the Caucasus.

Basking in the glory of Iran’s improving image as a conflict mediator, Iranian officials visiting the UN headquarters for the annual meeting of the General Assembly are intent on taking this one step further by seeking the formation of a new global alliance for peace, together with other developing nations.

This idea, initially raised by Ahmadinejad in his speech before the UN last September, is now on the verge of being fleshed out in more detail as a result of a new sense of urgency felt by many (developing) nations that new and concrete initiatives are needed to avoid the scourge of wars and conflicts and to bolster the UN’s peace efforts.

Priding themselves on Iran’s long history, culture and tradition of peaceful coexistence among nations, both Ahmadinejad and Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki spoke on Monday evening, at a private reception, of the underlying reason for sounding confident about the present state of Iran’s foreign relations. Thus, while Mottaki emphasized Iran’s ability to “communicate with all parties” in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere, Ahmadinejad attributed Iran’s foreign policy success to the “growing disenchantment of the world with today’s global management”.

Clearly, Iran today has fixed its gaze to higher levels and senses an opportunity in the midst of the global financial crisis and the dissatisfaction of the world with what Ahmadinejad called, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, US President George W Bush’s “logic of force”, for presenting an alternative vision for “cooperative global management” that is not “hegemonic” and rather oriented toward “respect for the rights of all nations, large or small” and “justice”.
“I have attended more than 300 meetings, assemblies and conferences since I became president, and I tell you everywhere I go I hear people complaining about the present global status quo,” he was quoted as saying.

In the LA Times interview, Ahmadinejad stated, “We do not believe that the US policy perspective, looking at the rest of the world as a field of confrontation, will give global results.” Still, despite adopting a non-confrontational discourse and speaking the language of post-hegemony and global peace, Ahmadinejad was still accused, by an Agence France-Presse wire report, of “defending a confrontational stance toward West”.

Yet, in the same report, there is no hint of such a confrontational attitude and, in fact, Ahmadinejad has been quoted as stating a rather obvious fact that it is not Iran’s military in surrounding territories, but rather the US’s.

“Our nuclear policy is and always has been peaceful and we have faithfully implemented the terms of our work plan with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency],” Mottaki told the author, indicating a degree of his frustration with the UN watchdog agency’s refusal to give Iran a clean bill of health, despite Iran’s nuclear transparency and the absence of any evidence of military diversion.

However, Iran is delighted by the new statement supporting Iran’s nuclear right issued by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), and Ahmadinejad’s New York trip is geared to shore up international support against what Iran terms as “illegal UN sanctions”.

Regarding the latter, the US and its European allies are engaged in a desperate effort to impose fresh sanctions on Iran, capitalizing on this week’s IAEA deliberations on Iran and the warning by its chief, Mohamad ElBaradei, that Iran should be more cooperative with respect to the “outstanding issue” of certain weaponization studies.

It is important to bear in mind, however, that ElBaradei’s latest report confirms that the atomic agency has not detected any diversion of nuclear material toward those alleged studies, and repeatedly attests to the low-enriched activities at the fuel enrichment plant in Natanz, contrary to the never subsiding allegations circulating in the Western media.

In the US this week – from the Wall Street Journal to the New York Times and Washington Post – major US newspapers are inundated with anti-Iran commentaries and editorial accusing Iran of being on the way to becoming “nuclear-armed” and calling for stern new sanctions and other coercive measures to prevent this “nightmare”. Case in point: in a collaborative piece in the Wall Street Journal, Richard Holbrooke, R James Woolsey, Dennis B Ross and Mark D Wallace announced the creation of a new high-powered group against nuclear Iran.

These authors, including a former UN envoy to the UN and a former head of the US Central Intelligence Agency, are not alone. Across the political spectrum in Washington, frantic efforts are underway to give a boost to the US’s anti-Iran diplomacy at the UN, given the new US-Russia tensions that may hamper those efforts. For his part, President George W Bush in his UN speech chided Russia for attacking Georgia and called on the world community to stand firm against the nuclear ambitions of both North Korea and Iran.

In his UN speech, Ahmadinejad called for free elections in the Israel-occupied territories, hit out at hegemonic, bullying policies, called for the establishment of an interfaith community of justice in place of today’s “hegemonic system” and reiterated Iran’s inalienable right to nuclear technology, adding that Iran refused to abide by “illegal demands”. He criticized the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s role in Afghanistan and Georgia, and refrained from any criticism of Russia. Blending theology with diplomacy, Ahmadinejad once again capitalized on accumulating Third World dissatisfactions and sought to portray himself as a champion of Third World rights.

Ahmadinejad’s fiery UN presentation, particularly his attacks on US interventionism in Iraq, Latin America and elsewhere, and his predictions that the American empire “is at its rope” may be music to many Third World ears, yet a few NAM diplomats openly wondered if less incendiary rhetoric not so imbued with theological wisdom may have been more appropriate.

Several other diplomats expressed a more friendly reaction, and one African diplomat told the author he thought Ahmadinejad’s “Utopian” vision of an alternative world community based on justice and mutual respect was welcome in his continent.

At a press conference after his speech at the General Assembly, Ahmadinejad elaborated on the nuclear and other related issues. He said the IAEA chief director told him in Tehran last year that he was satisfied with Iran’s cooperation and in his March 2008 report was going to ask Iran’s file to be normalized. And yet, due to US propaganda and fabrications, was put under pressure and prevented from doing so.

He blamed the US for unilaterally cutting off diplomatic relations with Iran and expressed Iran’s preparedness to restore ties with Washington as long as the US respected Iran and was willing to engage in diplomatic relations “as equals”.
On Iraq, Ahmadinejad questioned the reason for keeping Iraq under the UN’s Chapter III, and claimed that the Americans were doing this to pressure Iraqis and gain advantages in their country. Still, he said that Iran respects the decisions of the Iraqi government and stated Iran’s preparedness to cooperate with other nations in the fight against international terrorism.

With respect to Afghanistan, he blamed NATO and said that since the “day they came, drug traffic and terrorism has multiplied and no matter how loudly we raise the alarms that they are making a dreadful error, they are not listening”.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran’s Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of “Negotiating Iran’s Nuclear Populism”, Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote “Keeping Iran’s nuclear potential latent”, Harvard International Review, and is author of Iran’s Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.