Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1261, (3 - 9 September 2015)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1261, (3 - 9 September 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Iran’s charm offensive

Iran will use this month’s UN General Assembly meeting to reach out to the international community after the agreement on its nuclear programme, writes Camelia Entekhabifard

Iran’s charm offensive
Iran’s charm offensive
Al-Ahram Weekly

This year the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly is more significant and different from usual as it is the 70th anniversary of the organisation. The 70th General Assembly meeting is also different from usual as Iran has signed the nuclear agreement with the world powers, beginning the process of reintegrating the country into the international community.

In late July, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a meeting with EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini in Tehran that once the Vienna Agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme was put into effect, the next step would be a campaign against terrorism and bringing a halt to war and bloodshed.

In the post-agreement period when the chances of the US Congress approving the deal have increased, the best platform for Iran to show that diplomacy can succeed is the United Nations, allowing it to engage further with the international community.

Ahead of the General Assembly meeting, Ali Larijani, Iran’s parliamentary speaker, has travelled to New York to attend the Global Parliamentary Summit meeting which is held every five years.

The significant of this trip is the meetings Larijani will be having with US politicians and members of the press ahead of the US Congress voting on the Iran deal on 17 September. Larijani’s assistant told local Iranian radio station Ghoftegho on 31 August that “a couple of US senators” had requested a meeting with Larijani in New York.

While the rejection of the Iran accord by Congress is unlikely, preparations for more cooperation between Iran and the international community are exercising international and Iranian politicians.

Diplomacy is what is supposed to be pursued by Rouhani’s administration, and this should be the aim of Larijani’s visit to the US as well since he has clearly supported the nuclear agreement and stood shoulder to shoulder with the president.

For many both within and outside Iran, the nuclear deal affirms Rouhani’s vision that Iran is stronger through diplomacy and engagement, not threats and endless conflicts. Iran also says it has a proposal to help solve the crisis in Syria which it has not yet revealed, though it may do so in September on the sidelines of the General Assembly meeting in discussions with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif.

“One of the advantages of the Vienna Agreement is cooperation to fulfil our shared obligation with regard to humanity and human ideals to fight terrorism and end war and the shedding of the blood of innocent people,” Rouhani said recently.

In contrast to Rouhani and Zarif’s call for improving ties with neighbouring countries, Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy advisor to the Iranian supreme leader, has expressed his differences with the government.

In August, Velayati affirmed Iran’s commitment to its regional allies after the nuclear deal by saying that “the Islamic Republic supports its regional allies, including the legitimate governments of Iraq and Syria, the Islamic resistance in Lebanon and the Yemeni people’s struggle, as it has done in the past and now does even more than ever before.”

If Velyati’s view reflects what hardliners chant at Friday prayers in Iran, then no one should believe that Iran has truely changed. However, ordinary Iranians know that such slogans are a staple of the system.

Some foreigners also understand the differences between what is said for internal consumption and the wider reality. British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, on a visit to Tehran recently to reopen the UK embassy, showed in an interview with the BBC that he understood the diplomacy of approaching Iran.

When Hammond was asked about the “death to Israel” slogans chanted in Iran, particularly by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei even after the nuclear agreement, he answered in a low key.

“I think we have to distinguish between revolutionary slogans and what Iran actually does in the conduct of its foreign policy. There are quite a number of countries that distinguish rhetoric for internal political consumption from the reality of the way they conduct their foreign policy,” Hammond said.

The UK embassy in Tehran, now reopened, was closed after an attack in 2009. Graffiti reading “death to America” has also been cleaned from the walls of the former US embassy in Tehran.

It seems that Iran’s leaders may soon develop a strategy for increasing their engagement with other countries. The nuclear agreement was a successful investment for the supreme leader of Iran, and it means he can now allow the country’s diplomats to play a larger role in guiding Iran towards greater regional respect.

The question is whether this can be achieved before the next presidential elections in Iran and the United States.

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