Friday, January 30, 2009

The Rapprochement

"As I said in my inauguration speech, if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us," American President Obama has recently said in an interview with Al Arabyia.
"It is very important for us to make sure that we are using all the tools of US power, including diplomacy, in our relationship with Iran."he said.

Iranian press is full of new and reactions on these developments. Some sound optimistic ,others are very cautious. The official National TV is however, restraining the news and analysis.

Iran is top on the agenda for not only the US President, but Secretary of State Clinton as well as UN Representative Susan Rice, who all commented on the US strategy on dealing with Iran. Even much has been said on that tone in Davos ,although the Erdogan -Peres debacle which has turned Erdogan into a national hero has topped the news on that matter.

The reality is that Americans do not have a clean reputation in Iran or in the Islamic world for that matter. They need to engage in confidence building strategies before any successful rapprochement occurs.

For the Islamic Republic ,there is no reason to pursue an antagonistic position if it sees any change in the tone and policy of Americans. I think the Government of President Ahmadinejad is prepared to engage within the well defined policy lines of the Supreme Leader. He is however, not the final decision maker on such matters which are classified as national security issues. Three issues have made things more difficult for both Americans and Iranians. First, the terrible assault of Israel against the civilian Gazan population, leaving about 400 children killed along with the biased support of the US government. Second, is the highly polarized political atmosphere in Iran in face of the up-coming presidential elections. Reformists have serious criticism on the economic and general performance of the government and this is giving them a difficult time internally. Third, are the attempts that seem to be pursued by satellite TV programs and other types of US funded activities which are endangering the civil society and internal opposition activity. The US Congress adopted funds to support opposition groups unaware of the fact that most Iranians active in the civil society or human rights activists seriously refrain from accepting any foreign assistance under such pretexts for fear that they would jeopardize their credibility not only in face of the Government but in face of the people as well. This American policy has put the civil society in Iran in difficult circumstances.

In any case , the rapprochement between Iran and the US needs more effort and action from the American side. For the moment it seems that the Iranian government is cautiously keen to pursue this line as it will positively influence their political conditions for the imminent elections.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Joe Biden in Davos

Like the rest of the world, in Iran, there are alot of reactions to Obama's inaugural ceremony and the first days he has had in the Oval Office. His meteoric rise to the Presidency of the United States has given the signal to many throughout the world that change is on the way. His quick decisions to close down Guantanamo and other CIA detention centers have been generally welcomed . Here in Iran, politicians are still cautiously optimistic . Whether this is truly a new era for America as Hillary Clinton put it yesterday or not has to be seen . We are waiting to see how Obama's new rhetroric in dealing with its adversaries including with Iran will actually translate into action. There have been many attempts to engage Iran before but without much success. The lack of trust on both sides has been evident.
Joe Biden , as an American Senator was the guest speaker of the Iran in the World session in Davos in 2005 . Dr. Kharazi and I spoke on the diverse aspects of Iranian society and politics in that session, misunderstandings between the two nations were also discussed. Joe Biden who was there along with his wife, also spoke that night. Biden defined the circumstances and mentioned that Iran has to choose between its nuclear energy program and its economic advancement plans. He was trying to make a strong impression of the American resolve on this matter.
In the IGWEL session in the World Economic Forum many Presidents, Vice Presidents and Minsters spoke on global issues. As I recall , one other American senator Orrin Hatch was there in addition to Biden. They faced many questions on American economic and diplomatic policy. I brought up the question why the US had so many double standards in dealing with the world. Why had they supported dictatorships who were US allies and opposed democracies when they were American adversaries. What are the core values America claims to promote , I asked.
Now, as the US Vice President and working with Barack Obama I think Biden has many opportunities to rationalise relations between Iran and the US. Confidence building is probably the key .

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Clean Air and Good Intentions

There have been so many events going on during the past days. We had the Clean Air Day celebrations on Sunday. This was an event that the Department of Environment initiated during my tenure. During those years we embarked on a serious strategy to improve air quality in Tehran as well as 7 major cities, amounting to better air for more than 20 million citizens. A comprehensive plan was implemented in 7 phases and more than 40 projects. We had achieved many targets by 2006 including out phasing lead from gasoline in the country, implementing emission standards for the automotive industry and promoting CNG fueled public transportation. Those projects resulted in better air quality until 2007 , however since the new government was installed many projects have failed or have faced serious delays. Now the quality of air in this city of 8.5 million is deteriorating quickly.
The Environment Committee of the City Council visited some of the projects of the Metro ( the underground urban train system) . The Metro has transported more than 2 billion commuters since its inception in 1996 and it is rapidly expanding the current 3 lines to 8 lines. Several regions in the city are under construction for the Metro . The people are generally very satisfied and hope to see new lines opened for transportation in different parts of the city. We visited some lines in the south of the city and also some maintenance facilities.
My general impression is that the current government is no longer interested in promoting environmental standards and improving air and water quality. They seem to follow only short term objectives and usually invest where they can generate some propaganda for the upcoming presidential elections. Their incompetence in many areas is now taking its toll.
No one still knows whether President Khatami will stand for these elections or not. Many people hope that he will step forward to change the existing circumstances. Others pray that God gives him the wisdom to make a correct decision.
Changes in the American administration are inevitable and the world is watching closely. The inaugural ceremony is underway. We have a religious narration saying that : Actions are judged by the intentions behind them. I hope Obama has good intentions not only for the American people but for all of humanity as well.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Mr. Obama Your Silence is Complicity

We are facing extraordinary times. The ongoing Israeli aggression on Gaza has passed the limits of humanitarian disaster, it is an evident crime against humanity. Now, more than 1000 civilians have been killed, while European surgeons in Gaza believe that very few combatants have been killed. The statistics indicate that over 230 children have been killed, in addition to over 90 women. Israel has now resorted to phosphorous bombs, in addition to the cluster and napalm bombs used before. Independent analysts believe that Israel should be taken to the World Court for its evident war crimes. The relative silence of world governments , excluding of course, Iran, Venezuela and Bolivia and a few others that have severed or downgraded ties with Israel, is again a clear indication of the hypocritical mentality governing today's world.

Mr. Obama, you are stepping into the world stage in very sensitive times. You have promised to change the current policies and the expectations of many in your country and worldwide are anticipating that change. Hundreds of innocent humans and children have been sacrificed in the past weeks due to the biased policies of the American government in support of Israel. Up to now, you have been surprisingly complacent and silent in face of these crimes against humanity. The reality is, Mr. Obama that your silence is complicity.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Ashura: Any Relevance Today?

These days , in Tehran you see people from all walks of life , taking part in mourning ceremonies, in one way or another. You see young people wearing jeans and or other types of western gear and brands listening to MP3 or MP4 playing "nohe". "Nohe" is a type of mourning music melancholic but also influenced by pop and rap tones. Poems concerning the events in Ashura are read individually or collectively and the rhythm is usually inspiring and motivating. The inspiration however stems from the spirit of Ashura.
This is an event which occurred about 60 years after the Hejira, in Karbala ( a region currently in Iraq) . Hussein the son of Ali, the grandson of the Prophet was asked to submit to the ruling establishment of the time. Muavieh and Yazid his son ruled in the name of Islam and gave themselves the title of the Leader of the Believers, in reality however their policies and practices were in total contradiction to the egalitarian, ethical and moral standards that the Prophet of Islam had advocated. The despotic and cruel rulers were intent in preserving their control and propagating their deviant version of the religion. Their hypocrisy was deceiving ordinary people. In reality although they proclaimed their system to be abiding to Islam they used the religion as a shield for their base and selfish ambitions. It became evident that this would be a point of deviation from authentic teachings of the Religion which brought the final Message, a message for all times and a message of dignity and salvation for humanity. Imam Hussein could have comfortably given in and submitted to Yazid thereby allowing a distorted version of the Religion , and a rule of tyranny and oppression to dominate. He, however chose to resist and stand for truthfulness , for the dignity and freedom of mankind , to set an example for generations to come . How is it that more than 14 centuries later the legacy of Imam Hussein inspires millions of Muslims to follow his example and to contemplate his heroic struggle for justice and dignity?
The Islamic Revolution in Iran was profoundly inspired by the campaign of Imam Hussein and today the Palestinian people find inspiration in his struggle.
In reality Ashura is a message for all irregardless of their religion or nationality to stand up for the truth, to set aside selfish and egoist desires, to relinquish a passive and carefree attitude and react to oppression and injustices.
How relevant is the concept and legacy of Imam Hussein for us today?

In our current world today , the aggression against Palestine is the greatest symbol of injustice, a standing defiance to international law. Today Gaza is a test for all, can we remain indifferent and believe that these injustices, and crimes will not affect our livelihoods ?
As long as there is injustice in a world dominated by double standards:
Every day is Ashura and every land is Karbala.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Peaceful Coexistence in Isfahan

We had to attend a mourning ceremony for a relative in Isfahan. We took the freeway through Ghom and Kashan . It took us about 5 hours to reach the large city. Isfahan is a unique city by all means. The beautiful Zayanderood flows elegantly through the city dividing it into northern and southern quarters. The city has been well managed in recent years and by most standards it is emerging as a modern metropolitan while preserving the cultural heritage and art works. In Isfahan, you can find art and architecture dating back to centuries before Islam. The Jame Mosque was originally a place of worship for Zoroastrians, thousands of years ago , today it is one of the most remarkable tourist attractions. It is located in a part of the city which is known as the Ancient district belonging also to the Jewish tradition, including a location known as the Aaron neighborhood. In addition, the Vanek Church which I have seen before, is a standing example of Christian art and culture in the heart of an Islamic society. Together, these magnificent architectural works display the coexistence of diverse religions, throughout centuries. Even today Jews, Armenians and Zoroastrians live alongside Muslims in this ancient city, although their numbers have fluctuated throughout the years. The Abassi hotel is the best place to stay, the hotel itself is breathtaking in terms of the artwork displayed within the hotel which is a historic site as well.
By the way, amidst the New Year jubilation ,news and images coming from Gaza are alarming. Images of so many children killed or injured in Gaza are unbelievable. Is this a genocide campaign? More shocking is the impotence of international bodies that are entrusted with the mandate of preserving world peace. The security council has not been able to issue a resolution to condemn the attacks. The European calls for truce or ceasefire have not been taken seriously by the Israel government and the Islamic conference has not been responding to this crime in proper dimensions. Gaza is alone today, more than ever before.....