Power of Logic and Logic of Power in Rohani’s Diplomacy (An Opportunity for the West to Rethink Relations with Iran)
FRIDAY, JUNE 21, 2013
Interview with Mohammad Farhad Koleini
Senior Expert on Strategic Issues
Dr. Hassan Rohani, the new president of Iran, took part in his first press conference to talk about a variety of issues, during which he promised to increase transparency about Iran’s nuclear dossier. Adding that he would do his best to reduce the tension which exists between Iran and the United States, Rohani expressed hope that Iran would reach new agreements with the Western countries over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear dossier. International reactions to the election victory of Hassan Rohani have been generally positive. Even the French President Francois Hollande announced that his country would agree to presence of Hassan Rohani in the forthcoming international conference on Syria, known as Geneva 2, which is going to be held in the Swiss city of Geneva probably in July. In the following interview, we have discussed the major effects of the recent presidential election in Iran on the country’s foreign policy, especially on Iran’s nuclear case and relations with the United States, with Mohammad Farhad Koleini, an expert on international issues. The text of the interview follows.
Q: Many analysts are talking about serious effects of the presidential election on Iran’s foreign policy. What is your opinion about the impact of the election on the country’s foreign policy?
A: The recent magnificent presidential poll in which the main role was played by our people created a new wonder which can potentially change the international attitude to the power of the religious democracy in Iran and shape their calculations in a different way. It seems that foreign experts and officials are still in a state of shock. It goes without saying that despite all the negative propaganda against the country, the international image of Iran is undergoing change and the new election has provided Iran’s public diplomacy with a new opportunity. People’s election turnout, especially during the second half of the election day, was in fact a tsunami in terms that it created a political epic which even took our country’s executive officials by surprise. At present, a reliable capacity has been created as a result of a combination of popularity and legitimacy. The election can be actually harbinger of the reconstruction of Iran’s political culture and the way that its political environment is shaped because it has introduced increasing value of national unity as the best support to defend and further expand the country’s national interests and head off possible threats. The speed at which Russia congratulated Iran’s newly elected president on the occasion of his election win followed by other important regional states was quite striking. However, congratulatory messages from certain Western countries came from levels lower than their presidents and some of them chose to show a guarded reaction to Rohani’s election win. Of course, they may be waiting for the swearing-in ceremony and subsequent inauguration of the new Iranian president. On the whole, the presidential election of 2013 has offered our country with a very important opportunity. It would be advisable for the new foreign policy team of Iran to make their future plans and organize their agenda with these realities in mind.
Q: The Leader of the Islamic Revolution took the United States to task on the election day for Washington’s interventionist remarks about the presidential election in Iran. What is your opinion about the approach taken by the Americans to this election? Have the United States and the European countries been following a similar policy in this regard?
A: Both official and unofficial media in the United States were following their customary policies in accordance with a special agenda, and their positions were dictated to them by the United States foreign policy apparatus. Of course, the degree of intervention [in media affairs] has been different in terms of official and unofficial dimensions of that intervention and also in terms of covert and overt intervention, but I repeat that the United States foreign policy apparatus is best aware of these policies.
At first, that is, during the few months leading to Iran’s presidential polls, the Western media had been told not to focus their propaganda campaign on boycotting elections in Iran, but to try to create convergence among the Islamic Republic’s opposition groups overseas. Therefore, they mostly preached participation in election in order to bring about change in Iran. However, watching Iran’s developments, especially in the few weeks before the election, they suddenly changed course and focused their efforts on dissuading participation in the election by encouraging people to boycott the polls. They even tried to promote this position by giving room to certain individuals and allowing more space for propaganda aimed at election boycott in Iran. The remarks made by the Leader of the Islamic Revolution contained accurate reasoning as well as correct understanding of the opposite side’s tactics. On the other hand, I have to add that some European countries, especially the UK, are following totally different approaches to encourage international community to impose tougher sanctions on Iran. It seems that massive participation of the Iranian expatriates in the polls, especially in the United States and Europe, where the voter turnout in some places was as high as 92 percent, included good lessons for the West. The fact that the Leader of the Islamic Revolution urged even those people who are at odds with the fundamental principles of the Islamic Republic, to take part in the polls was a smart step taken which changed mental equations of the West whose media had focused on discouraging election turnout and casting doubt on its legitimacy. The Leader, in fact, opened the way for that part of the society that does not support the Islamic establishment, but wants to take part in the political process and do its part in determining the country’s national fate.
The presidential election in 2013 has greatly increased the country’s bargaining power for solving the strategic issues with which it is currently faced. The new president of the Iranian people has clearly announced that the time for making the Islamic Republic to suspend its nuclear activities is long past. Rohani rightfully highlighted this change in Iran’s coordinates in order to restrict expectations of the West in any possible future negotiations. The literature he used when announcing his semi-official positions was a combination of explicit interaction with friends, giving time to the West to mend its ways, and the use of positive ambiguity.
Q: Mr. Rohani has been working in diplomatic areas for many years. At the same time, many analysts believe that the president of Iran cannot have a powerful effect on the general course of the country’s foreign policy. Now that Mr. Rohani has won the presidential election, to what extent, do you think there is possibility of change in Iran’s foreign policy?
A: The main policies of the country are quite clear and are formulated on the basis of macroeconomic documents of Iran. As a member of the Expediency Council and also as the former secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and present representative of the Leader at that Council, Mr. Rohani is in a good position to know about the minute details of these policies. However, he is sure to have his own managerial and diplomatic style for the pursuit of these policies. Therefore, he and his team of professionals should be allowed to take position before an expert judgment can be made about their performance and efficiency. Having presumptions is quite different from estimating the future course in political psychology. As you know, change in the quality of a country’s foreign policy is a different concept from change in the country’s diplomatic approach.
Offering initiatives, speed in diplomacy, and regulation of urgencies and priorities can be very effective in shaping diplomatic process and discovering solutions to different problems. It is obvious that all doors cannot be opened with the same key and not all diseases can be treated with the same prescription. Rohani is both a seasoned politician and a law expert. He is well aware of the power of logic and the logic of power. I think that he has put on his agenda the power of logic in the foreign policy discourse, combined with the power of action in diplomacy. The literature he used when announcing his semi-official positions was a combination of explicit interaction with friends, giving time to the West to mend its ways, and the use of positive ambiguity. I think from now on, Iran’s foreign policy options will broaden provided that professional people take charge and work with adequate and utmost precision.
Q: Mr. Rohani said in his first press conference that the time for suspension of Iran’s nuclear activities is past. How do you think the result of the presidential election will affect nuclear negotiations with the West?
A: The presidential poll in 2013 has increased Iran’s bargaining power for finding strategic solutions to problems on the basis of correct understanding of the country’s new coordinates. The new president of the Iranian nation has clearly announced that the time for the suspension of nuclear activities is past and his reference to this change of coordinates is aimed at restricting the West’s expectations in any possible future negotiations. This policy aims at bolstering the mechanism of negotiations. If the West is bent on finding other ways to build confidence with Iran, it will obviously have to offer its proposals on the basis of the new realities. As a result, the Western countries should follow a policy which would enable them to make up for the past mistakes and recognize the rights of the Iranian nation. As [the French President Francois] Hollande announced in France, these conditions can be a turning point. This is why he has welcomed Iran’s presence in Geneva 2 confab on Syria. I think that the ElyseePalace is aware of the situation and is aware of the new balancing role that Iran is playing in the region through its nuclear energy program or even through plans forwarded to revive the new Silk Road. The possible measure by the European countries to lift certain sanctions against Iran without coming up with new expectations will open a new chapter in Iran’s relations with the European Union. A recent report by the British Petroleum (BP) on the power of Iran’s energy sector, especially in the gas industry, can be used as a guide for measures taken in Eurasia to provide a secure environment for all the involved parties. The relations with Iran should not be simply overshadowed by the nuclear issue. Many countries in the world hold conflicting or even rival viewpoints, but this issue is by no means an obstacle to cooperation among them in political fields.