Iran’s vision of new Iraq
By M Javad Zarif
In the mid-1980’s, when Saddam Hussein started attacking commercial ships in the Persian Gulf, initiating the “tanker war,” Iran proposed the establishment of a security and cooperation arrangement in the region to prevent the widening of the Iran-Iraq war and to ensure stability in the area. This idea was later enshrined in United Nations Security Council Resolution 598. The resolution brought the Iran-Iraq war to an end, but the provision on regional security foundered.
Likewise, when the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was brought to an end in 1991, the Security Council once more underlined the need for regional security, but again nothing was put in place. In retrospect, those proposed security systems, under an appropriate international umbrella, could have spared our region two decades of devastation and tragedy.
Now, with the menace of Saddam Hussein gone, it remains to be seen whether the Iraqi people and the region as a whole will benefit, or whether we will see chaos in Iraq and a new round of instability in the area.
There is an international consensus — extremists of all sides notwithstanding — that stability and moderation in the region are pivotal for global security and prosperity. Yet efforts by the major powers to attain these objectives through the old paradigm of political domination, force projection and imposition of their will have produced little but conflict, insecurity, arms races, dictatorship and extremism. Iran has suffered tremendously; we have a vested national security interest in helping to reverse this trend and replace it with participation, moderation and confidence.
The devastating effects of the invasion of Iran by Saddam Hussein’s regime in 1980, as well as protracted instability in Afghanistan over two decades — producing terrorism, drug trafficking and an influx of refugees — have given rise to a strong national consensus in Iran that confrontation, regardless of outcome, brings nothing but death, destruction and tremendous waste of valuable human and material resources.
Iran has no territorial ambitions and has not invaded any neighbouring country for close to two and a half centuries. Thus, while prepared to defend our dignity, we have opted to build strong relationships with our neighbours and will continue to do so. We further believe that it is time to finally establish an indigenous and internationally guaranteed regional security arrangement under United Nations auspices.
The momentum created by the removal of Saddam Hussein should be used to replace mistrust and the arms race with mutual security and transparency. As the region’s largest and the most populous country, Iran has a great stake in discouraging a renewed arms race, especially one involving unconventional weapons. Furthermore, considering our huge reconstruction needs and a young population requiring a large portion of our limited resources, a costly arms race is counterproductive and obviously contrary to our security interests.
We also understand that developing nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction does not enhance Iran’s security. That is why it is party to more international disarmament treaties than almost any other country in the region. As for recent complaints by the Bush administration, Iran would have no difficulty showing maximum transparency with regard to its nuclear energy program, provided that the international community, particularly the United States, can provide reciprocal guarantees for access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. It is our right as well as our obligation to future generations to acquire peaceful nuclear, chemical and biological technology under the relevant international rules. It would be inconsiderate of the needs of future generations to allow oil and gas, a finite resource, to remain our only source of energy and our major source of foreign exchange.
The rising extremism in the region is as much a threat to Iran as it is to the West. Long before the 9/11 tragedies, Iran nearly went to war with the Taliban and their masters in Al Qaeda who had murdered Iranians inside Iran and Iranian diplomats in Afghanistan. We provided vital assistance to the Northern Alliance before the defeat of the Taliban, and have supported the creation and stabilization of the new government.
However, while we have a high stake in defeating extremism, we cannot accept many of the tactics employed to this end by the United States. Bare and brutish force may reap some rapid benefits, but in the long run it creates a more fertile breeding ground for extremism. This phenomenon has spread largely as a response to lack of justice and political participation. It can be removed only by addressing the root causes that gave rise to it in the first place.
Our region needs reform geared toward greater participation, respect for the rule of law and human rights. Reform, however, must be home grown. Democracy cannot be imported, let alone imposed by tanks and missiles. Indigenous models of reform and participation may not be as fully articulated as the systems of the West (which has had its own periods of trial and tribulation). Reform efforts like that within Iran should be seen as a process rather than a project — with the attendant ups and downs, setbacks and victories. But in the final analysis, these are the only models that Middle Eastern people can truly claim ownership of, and that can withstand the pressures of time and changing geopolitical circumstances.
The most urgent test case is Iraq. The challenge is how to move to a peaceful, democratic, inclusive and representative system on the ashes of one of the most brutal dictatorships in recent memory. While all members of the international community must help in the process of stabilization and reconstruction, no one from the region or outside can or should impose his image of a democratic and peaceful Iraq on its people. The people of Iraq are inheritors of a great civilization and possess vast human and natural resources. They have the right and most certainly the ability to determine their destiny. Iran is prepared to fully support and contribute to any genuine process by the Iraqi people in this direction, a process that should also enjoy the legitimacy of the United Nations. We do not seek to interfere or impose any type of government on the Iraqi people, and believe all should refrain from doing so. Iran and its neighbours have paid the price for three wars that took a tremendous toll on human life, economic stability and national and regional trust. We cannot afford to lose yet another opportunity. No short-term interest or political or ideological design is important enough to allow confrontation, imposition, exclusion and rivalry to prevail. We must all join in building a better future for our region. —Courtesy New York Times
M Javad Zarif is ambassador of Iran to the United Nations