Ali Akbar Farazi, an experienced Iranian diplomat, says Iran’s isolation from the international community can make the country vulnerable.
Foreign policy is one of the most important factors for every country to face and deal with global issues. Through proper foreign policy can countries discern their benefits and losses in the global arena, and thus choose the right paths. It has been quite a long time since the region has been burning in the flames of terrorism and sectarianism; meanwhile, some regional countries have formed ineffectual, short-lived coalitions. What path leads to gaining the highest national interests for the country? This is the question that we are trying to find an answer for in our interview with Ali Akbar Farazi, Iran’s experienced diplomat and an expert on the NATO, who was also the country’s former ambassador to Hungary.
Here’s IFP‘s translation of Farazi’s interview with Khabar Online.
The region has undergone huge changes; given this and with regard to the fact that you are an expert on NATO, how do you see the future of this new approach among Islamic Republic of Iran, Turkey and Russia; especially after the Turkish coup d’état attempt?
Now that the balance of power in the Persian Gulf and the surrounding region of our country is changing, the players and their supporters are either undergoing a change, swapping places or becoming weaker or stronger in their same international position. The failed coup attempt in Turkey was not an internal scenario. My understanding is that, once the dust of coup settled, it came to the view that it was actually a multifaceted scenario that some players outside Turkey, like Saudi Arabia, were pulling the strings. I believe that what happened in Turkey was not supposed to end up like this.
Do you mean it was not a coup or that it was just something other than what was displayed?
Is there anyone who can explicate that how on earth a bunch of Arab students managed to hijack an airplane and blow up the Twin Towers? Neither can I explain how the coup attempt in Turkey took place! That is so beyond my ken. At the night of the coup, a few generals have a casual telephone conversation about their plans at 6pm and the rest of the story. Moreover, we should not see Turkey’s developments through the eyes of the Turks only, that is, the origins of the coup are not just in Turkey and its side effects will not be circumscribed to this country either.
We need to pay heed to the approach Iran has taken since the Islamic Revolution. Unlike some people who usually say unfortunately, I would say fortunately, Iran has not shaken strategic hands with anyone and therefore, we cannot say that Iran is conducting strategic activities in the new equation.
The current ephemeral events have brought Turkey and Russia closer to each other, while both of them have their own short term plans. The question then arises whether Iran will form the third angle in this game. I would say that Iran, though possibly unaware or aware, is the complementary player. I mean, without Iran, they are not able to fulfil the role they have assumed in the region. Having Iran on their side, they can make more progress; however, this trio is not perfect yet because Iran has its own specific interests as well.
In Syria, for instance, we have stepped in the battlefield to safeguard our own interests; being right or wrong is an internal issue though. The fact is that Iran’s interests in no way converge with Turkey and Russia’s. The Turks are engaged in the issue of Turkmenistan and the Syrian Kurds. Since Turkmens are living in Syria too, and with regard to the Kurds’ presence there, Turkey has deployed its troops in the north of Syria trying to shoot two birds with one stone. Maybe, it has plans for the oil buried in north Syria. I do not want to envisage whether Istanbul will achieve its goals or not; what I’m trying to say is that THIS is the strategy (interest) that the Turks have delineated for themselves; they suppress their Kurds under the pretext of Syrian Kurds and gain an easy access to Syria’s oil fields.
That holds true for Russia as well. This is not the Russia we used to know a few years ago. It was outwitted by the West in the case of Libya. Anticipating that the West would progress step by step in Libya, Russia was left startled to see that Libya is taken over. Russians, who have suffered a big loss in this game, now are determined to take over the areas that matter to them such as Lattakia, Tartus and the areas overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
Will the US remain silent about Russia’s expansionism?
That doesn’t bother Americans. Israel and the safety of this regime are the only interests that Americans are concerned with; meanwhile, to Americans Russia is no enemy to Israel so their interests never come into conflict. At the end of the day, Russians and the Zionist regime are allies; something that Israel knows well! They have elevated their recent concerns about Turkey; therefore, neither Russia nor Turkey is a matter of concern to Israel. Now the question is that what we are doing here.
Their analysis goes like; I get this, you get that, fair and square; but what about Iran?! We want our share too. After all, Iran has been present and has made investment in the region, Syria and Lebanon for over thirty years, for God’s sake; not only financial, but also spiritual investment.
We have to move forward within the framework of the Islamic Republic; this is the answer. Despite all the superficial analyses that we hear every now and then on Iran’s role in Syria, I have to stress that Iran enjoys an astute discernment and never lands itself in trouble for the interests of other countries.
So, how can we achieve our goals?
We have already reached some of our goals. What I said so far was a preface to argue that we do not, and cannot, have any strategic partnership with Russia and Turkey in any fields. We do not have any strategic allies at all and although it might result in a vulnerable Iran, in a way it strengthens the foundations of the country and strikes terror into the hearts of our enemies. In fact, this is a perplexing model that has puzzled our rivals.
Iran does not, and cannot, have any strategic partnership with Russia and Turkey in any fields.
We do not have any strategic allies at all.
To give a comprehensive answer, I might say that our major problem does not lie outside our borders. It is here, inside the country. I am afraid to admit that in Iran we have some toxic political and intellectual currents that describe ‘becoming like North Korea’ as being Revolutionary. Their definition of Revolutionarism has been left intact since 36 years ago. We say that North Korea is isolated and abandoned; they say that it is nuclear! What is the use of being nuclear? Nuclear weapons of Soviet Union were several times greater than North Korea’s; but were they helpful when it began to disintegrate? We have to be highly alert to prevent such schools of thought from isolating Iran and pushing the country into the corner because, if so, we would be highly susceptible.
Being excluded from the international community is not an appropriate way of being revolutionary.
It is our strong point that while maintaining our positions we have managed to cling to our place in the international community. This is at a time though, many countries dissipated colossal amount of money for isolating and pushing Iran to the corners, but to no avail. In fact, they approached their goals a few years ago. We have to accept that if it was not for the 2013 presidential elections, those who were determined to isolate and craft a North Korea out of Iran would have reached their goals. Being excluded from the international community is not an appropriate way of actualizing Revolutionarism. Thankfully enough, Iranian authorities are of great insight and understand that isolation is tantamount to susceptibility.
Do you mean some political currents inside the country are impeding the progress of foreign policy and try to raise tensions and isolate Iran?
In 2007, [Zbigniew] Brzezinski said that the US foreign policy would be put up for auction in the Congress. The political current which is willing to invest higher, buys the bigger piece of the foreign policy cake. According to this, and with regard to the recent developments in the country after the implementation of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and noting that they are provoking disputes in the country over every trivial issue, it becomes apparent that some individuals are pursuing such harmful goals. They, who have all kinds of media at their service, express their opposition with everything that can open up the doors of international community towards Iran. Joining the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is the most recent example. All the opposing statements and exaggerations were aimed at marring FATF.
Iran’s foreign policy and economic diplomacy have become hostages of domestic policy.
Therefore, I believe that our major problem is that our foreign policy and economic diplomacy have become hostages of domestic policy and the closer we get to the upcoming presidential elections, the more examples of hostage-taking are witnessed. In adversity or prosperity, we are no more than a year to go to the polls and instead of holding technical talks and round-table discussions we have been lost in political games. Where on earth do politicians of a country toy with national interests and challenge them? This is all because of the upcoming elections and that our foreign policy, economic and trade relations have become hostages of domestic policy and the presidential election has aggravated the problem.
They say the incumbent government should convince public opinion.
This is a lame excuse. In the previous government people were kept utterly ignorant. Nothing was allowed to be divulged to them, let alone with convincing. No matter how convincing you are, these political currents never feel convinced. They are pursuing something else. Even when they are satisfied, it will take no more than a span of a couple of weeks that they come up with a new pretext to hold foreign policy hostage of domestic policy and sacrifice national interests at the feet of the benefits of their political currents.
Earlier you mentioned that at no point in time will the Russians’ interests align with the Turks’. Considering that, how further will this game last? It must come to an end somewhere in the future after all.
We may not forget that there is a universal principle in foreign policy which says, in politics, there are no permanent friends or enemies. National interests is the determining factor for every country. If it is not for us, we have to try to make it our first priority just like others. We are after our own national interests as well and at different points we should change our policies in line with our national interests.
In my opinion, we have to interact with Russia, Turkey or any other country as far as our national interests demand. Based on the remarks made by the Leader, we need to wield “heroic flexibility” and in line with our national interests we have to move forward, become friends or enemies and even build strategic relations in case of necessity.
But where should we feel threatened and where do problems come from? It happens, first, if we fail to recognize the country’s national interests which poses grave peril at the country. I may highlight the importance of those who specify the country’s national interests for our elites and decision makers as well. It will be a threatening disaster if our national interests, instead of being laid out by the thinkers and elites in think tanks, are specified based on some internal sentimental slogans.
This is how all of a sudden some people climb up the embassy of a country, which was going to be condemned and isolated because of its heinous crimes, and thus work in line with the interests of the enemy instead of their own country’s.
Back to your question about how further we will continue moving on this path; I should say that continuing this game is a sign of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s discernment and attests to the fact that Iran is a strong player. This is the Iranian policy. Graham Fuller, the English spy, in his book, the centre of the universe, beautifully argues that, “If you want to talk to an Iranian but to know their spirits beforehand look at the Iranian carpets and compare them with Chinese ones. Chinese carpet is recognized by a quiet, soft background which takes you slowly to the centre and traps you there with a flower; however, the Iranian version start with margins that are plethoric with complicated designs and intricate colours that confuse you. After all the confusion and windings you reach a small amaryllis flower at the centre.
So, aren’t you worried about future?
As I mentioned earlier, I am more concerned about internal issues rather than regional games. My mind is occupied with a sense of academic concern and I believe that our think tanks should do better. We desperately need to break free of this multiplicity of policies. Our internal dissidents should learn to avoid being prisoners of their own roles. Opponents and proponents should disseminate their ideas but at the end of the day everyone should acquiesce to the decisions made by the elites and authorities. All opposing voices should be united in line with national interests.