Beirut – The Arabic version of “Nous ne sommes pas seuls dans l’Univers” for Bertrand Badie, a professor in International Relations in the Political Science Institute in Paris, has been recently released in the version translated by Dr. Jean Majed Jabbour.
The original book was published by the “Maison La Decouverte” French publishing house while the Arabic translation was published by “Dar el-Fikr el-Arabi” with a special introduction written by Badie and dedicated to the Arabic version of the book in which he says: “In this big Arab world, Palestine is the only land which I haven’t visited; its people have been the first victims of all what I have described in my book; victims of the concept which I wanted to highlight, which despite the occupation, oppression, hegemony, arrogance, and the instinct of superiority, reminds me that we are not alone in this world anymore. Therefore, this Arabic version has been dedicated to the Arab world’s struggles and patience”.
The book has reconsidered the world order seeking to correct views particularly “the European or Western Centralization”; this book is one of many other foreign books warning from the unilateral hegemony in the world after it has lead to violence, chaos and ambiguous repercussions.
The book starts its discussions from the modernism era particularly from (the WestValian regime based on the series of treaties adopted from 1644 to 1648 to finish religious wars in Europe; known as the thirty-year wars); this regime led to the creation of state borders and sovereignty, and has framed international relations since then.
However, this WestValian stage that sets the ground for the international western regime, has -according to Badie- led to the emergence of a remarkable contradiction reflected in dedicating the concept of sovereignty, which led the international law to shrink and at the same time exaggerated the militarization of the world order, which drew the frame of the global game based on influence and war.
This regime controlled the global arena until the cold war and led to solve the global problems pragmatically between the two poles: Russia and the United States; however, it has left many issues unsolved like the Arab-Israeli conflict, which was contained instead of being managed by the two super powers to secure their interests.
Bertrand Badie has stressed the importance of changing the view toward international relations based on two perspectives: first, the importance of treating international relations in an independent frame because it is increasingly depending on social facts.Secondly, the bonding of international relations is no longer subject of states’ initiatives, which are increasingly controlled by the response to their communities’ dynamism; this dynamism has been composed of deep changes like telecommunications growth, development, civilized advancement, demographic pressure, reality of immigration, social movements, and social violence in addition to the pressure of humiliation, depression, failure, and anger.
Badie shows that Western powers will never control this new disturbed world because they have became helpless powers, which failed in finishing a real conflict like in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Libya, Central Africa, and Mali.
London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Ebrahim Yazdi served as deputy prime minister and foreign minister of Iran in the short-lived government of Mehdi Bazargan in the immediate aftermath of the 1979 revolution.
As such, he found himself close to the center of the storm that followed the capture of the American embassy in Tehran, an event which led to the poisoning of relations between the US and Iran and the downfall of the government of which he was a part.
Today, almost 35 years later, Iran faces a series of harsh choices in its foreign policy. Its only Arab ally, the government of Bashar Al-Assad, is locked in a bloody struggle for survival with its domestic opponents, yet at the same time Iran’s bitterest foe, the US, seems ready for the first time in years to reach some kind of accord with the Islamic Republic.
In this exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Yazdi explains his views on the path Iran should take in respect to these two crises, and why he believes Iran has an important role to play in ending Syria’s devastating civil war.
The following interview has been edited for length.
Asharq Al-Awsat: These days, we regularly hear speculation about changes in Iran’s foreign policy. Has Iran’s foreign policy really changed, or is the government simply trying to have sanctions relaxed?
Ebrahim Yazdi: It seems that Iran’s foreign policy has shifted from a negative approach to a positive one to be in more harmony with the world, in a bid to pursue the country’s interests. Naturally, getting rid of sanctions is the most important motivation for this change in approach. But that is not just a game, and the current administration of Iran has realized how much slogans and irrational tendencies cost the country. Therefore, it is trying to demonstrate the benefits and rationale of its decisions in foreign policy to the world.
Q: What will be the result of this new approach for Iran’s foreign policy? Will it secure the full normalization of ties between Tehran and Washington?
If a desire for change has been created in the leaders of both countries and they can reach agreement on a roadmap acceptable by both, normalization of ties cannot be ruled out. In a wisdom-oriented foreign policy with an interest-maximizing approach, [the idea of a] “permanent enemy” does not exist. Neither does a “permanent friend,” and Iran’s relations with other countries may change given new circumstances. The Iraqi government, which was once at war with Iran, is today a close friend of the Iranian government. The same could happen for other countries.
Q: How could Iran’s new foreign policy affect the wider Middle East?
Generally speaking, any improvement in Iran–US relations will be in the interest of peace and calm in the region. In the Gulf, besides Iran and Saudi Arabia, the only government whose presence is decisive is the United States. In the event of a change in relations between Iran and the US from hostility to normality, other countries in the region will definitely welcome stability, detente and the withdrawal of trans-regional forces from the Middle East.
Iran wields much clout in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and no plan can be implemented easily in the region without Iranian support. That is why the Middle East’s governments have always been willing to have Iran on their side. . . . Now, Iran can adopt new national policies to play its instrumental role in restoring calm to the region.
Q: A senior Iranian diplomat told me in private that Iran has to try its best to become the main US ally in the Middle East and replace Israel. Do you think that is possible, given conditions in Iran and the region? Is such a decision touted by Iran’s foreign policy decision-makers?
I don’t think so—I don’t think such an intention is envisaged. Iran neither wants, nor can it take, Israel’s place as the main ally of the US in the Middle East. The spread of peace and better relations between regional countries will blunt the role of foreign powers in the Middle East, and that will undermine Israel’s position. Therefore, Israel will try its best to ensure the continuation of tensions in the Middle East.
Q: What consequences would rapprochement between Iran and the US have for Israel? Would Israel be happy with cooperation between Iran and the West?
The Israeli government is the main opponent of the normalization of ties between Iran and the US. Israel’s motivation for this opposition is related to its refusal to reach peace with the Palestinians and recognize an independent Palestinian state.
In his important book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Former US president Mr [Jimmy] Carter makes clear that Israel is not ready to implement UN resolutions about the Palestinian crisis and respect its obligations and that Israel is responsible for the persistence of the Middle East crisis.
Regardless of former Iranian president [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s unreasonable slogans, Iran’s position regarding the settlement of the Palestinian crisis—as expressed by former presidents [Akbar] Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami—are clear and realistic. These officials have consistently said that Iran will respect any agreement the Palestinian government signs with Israel and the enforcement of Resolution 242 of the United Nations Security Council and the ensuing recognition of an independent Palestinian state. Israel is one of the rare UN members that refuses to implement UN resolutions and respect international conventions.
Q: Some analysts maintain that Iran has brought itself closer to the US in a bid to save Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad. But you recently wrote a letter to the Iranian president asking him to convince Assad to step down.
I don’t agree with this analysis. I don’t think Iran’s new foreign policy and its interaction with the US are designed to save Assad.
Iran’s new foreign policy is aimed at preventing war and finding diplomatic and non-military solutions to regional issues.
Q: Is Iran influential enough to convince Bashar Al-Assad to leave power?
Personally, I agree with our country’s foreign minister, Mr. [Mohammad Javad] Zarif, that the Syrian crisis has no military solution. Two years ago, on November 21, 2011, when some Arab countries were gripped by protests, I wrote a letter to the UN secretary-general proposing referendums to be held in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria. When Mr. Kofi Annan was tasked by the UN Security Council with resolving the Syrian crisis, I wrote a letter to him—on April 29, 2012—reaffirming my proposed referendum, but it was not accepted.
Now, the only possible and helpful political solution will be Mr. Assad’s voluntary resignation from power. Mr. [Vladimir] Putin, the Russian president, recently said he had no problem with Assad’s resignation. Therefore, with Russian help, Iran can convince Assad to voluntarily leave power.
Iran enjoys significant influence in Syria and Lebanon, and it can use its influence to save Syria from this devastating war.
Q: In a letter to Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, you called for Iran to undertake efforts to convince Assad to leave power. You noted that Bashar Al-Assad could be a bargaining chip for Iran. How can Iran use this bargaining chip? What would it gain if it did?
As far as the ongoing Syrian crisis is concerned, the priority is to save the Syrian people from a destructive civil war and a very uncertain future and not to save Assad. As I noted in my letter to Dr. Rouhani, we have to learn lessons from the experience of Iraq and the fate of Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi Ba’athist Party. Mr. Bashar Al-Assad’s voluntary resignation will clear the way for the settlement of crises in Syria and history will mark such a decision as a courageous move by Mr Assad.
Iran can play an effective role. The Syrian people, the Arabs and the international community will welcome such a gesture by Iran. In that case, Iran will become a powerful player in the Middle East political equation and regain its previous status as a regional power. Iran’s image in public opinion as a peace-seeking country will be also restored.
Q: What is the main reason behind Iran’s firm support for the Assad government in Syria? What benefits will Assad staying in power have for Iran at a time when Syria is in ruins?
Undoubtedly, Iran has strategic interests both in Syria and Lebanon and it has invested a lot in [those countries]. The important issue is that the fate of Syrian people should not be tied to that of Assad’s government. Assad insists on remaining in power until the end of his term next year. But why should he remain in power at the expense of the destruction of a nation and country? Assad did not adopt any prudent stance when he faced protests. He pushed his country towards destruction. That demonstrates the incompetence of a president.
A prudent leader must understand when he has to resist and when he has to show flexibility. The kings of Morocco and Jordan—unlike the leaders of Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria—submitted to some demands by their people to calm down protests.
Q: Iran and Saudi Arabia are two powerful and influential countries in the region. The leaders of these two countries often refer to each other as friends and brothers while they hold hostile views of one another. Do you think that Rouhani will be able to change these relations?
As you said, Iran and Saudi Arabia are two of the most powerful and influential countries in the region. Where do these hostile relations stem from? Improvement of ties could not be tied to Mr. Rouhani’s measures. Both countries must have the willpower to change. In that case, agreement on a roadmap will not be very difficult.
In his first press conference, Iran’s new president said clearly that improving relations with neighbors, particularly Saudi Arabia, is one of the most significant objectives of the new administration’s foreign policy. King Abdullah’s invitation to his close friend, Dr. Rouhani, to make the Hajj pilgrimage this year showed Saudi Arabia’s desire for better ties between the two countries.
In the event that Iran manages to implement a political solution in Syria, Saudi Arabia will definitely welcome it. I have to add at this point that supporting extremist groups in Syria will not bring peace and stability to Syria and the region, even if Assad is overthrown.
Q: What measures do you think Iran must undertake to build confidence and improve its relations with the Gulf states?
Confidence-building and the improvement of relations between Iran and the Persian Gulf littoral states require bilateral measures. Iran alone could not be expected to take action. Iran is unlikely to have cast a covetous eye on the Persian Gulf littoral states or have adopted hostile stances towards them.
Iran is opposed to the presence of foreign troops in the Persian Gulf and considers them a threat to its security. When the Gulf Cooperation Council was established, the political conditions of that time did not require Iran and Iraq to join the council. But preservation of Persian Gulf security without the presence and cooperation of Iran and Iraq is not easy. This council can invite both countries to join the council and clear the way for strategic cooperation among all Persian Gulf littoral states.
Q: Let me take the chance to ask you about Iran’s domestic conditions. You are the secretary-general of the Freedom Movement of Iran. This movement and other religious–nationalist groups have been under pressure in recent years. Many of their members are in prison. How do you think the political situation will develop in Iran? Is the current flexibility limited to relations with foreign countries, or it will also involve opposition groups inside Iran?
Whatever occurred in the June 2013 election was due to internal pressures. The country’s officials and decision-makers responded positively to the necessities created by these pressures. Therefore, it seems that flexibility will not be limited to foreign relations and it will sooner or later reach Iran’s internal political system.
Q: The Freedom Movement of Iran claims to have deep roots in the country. Why has it declined?
The FMI has suffered from stagnation, not decline. Over the past 30 years, we have always been under pressure, but these pressures increased dramatically in the past eight years. One reason for these pressures was the FMI’s prestige among people.
Q: Do you have any plan to print a magazine or resume your political activities in the new political climate in Iran?
If Iran’s political atmosphere does become more open, the FMI will be able to organize its activities.
This interview was originally conducted in Persian. It can be read here.
Berlin, Bloomberg—Europe may accelerate a shift away from its austerity-first agenda this week as the new Italian government changes course and a German-Spanish investment pact underscores a renewed focus on combating record unemployment.
Sunday’s swearing in of Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta ends a political deadlock nine weeks after voters rejected the country’s budget-cutting course. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, a champion of austerity, was scheduled to travel to Spain Monday to unveil a plan aimed at spurring investment in Spanish companies. Later this week, the European Central Bank may also cut interest rates at a meeting.
“You have to react to economic developments—we do so in Germany,” Schaeuble told members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union in Berlin last week. “We are not bureaucratic; we are not stupid.”
The new Italian government’s pledges to dismantle parts of the budget-cutting project undertaken by ousted premier Mario Monti opens a new front in the debate over the German-led policy of austerity to overcome the bloc’s debt crisis. As the 17-member euro area remains mired in recession, European leaders are joining global critics in urging the bloc to devote more resources to boosting economic growth.
Letta of the Democratic Party, at 46 the third-youngest Italian leader since World War II, came into office after sealing an alliance with former premier Silvio Berlusconi and recasting the coalition that stood behind Monti.
The premier’s swearing-in ceremony was marred by a shooting outside the premier’s office in central Rome in which two police officers were shot by a lone gunman.
One of the first tests of the new partnership may be a property tax that three-time premier Berlusconi has vowed to eliminate. Berlusconi said this weekend that Letta had agreed to abolish the measure on first homes and reimburse last year’s payment, a move he said may cost about EUR 8 billion (USD 10.4 billion). Letta has not confirmed the agreement and his first Cabinet meeting didn’t address it, according to his office.
Scrapping the unpopular tax would mark a challenge to European leaders’ preference for fiscal belt tightening at a time when it has come under increased criticism for compounding economic distress. European Commission President Jose Barroso spurred a debate last week when he said that while consolidation is necessary, budget-cutting had run its course.
“We are reaching the limits of the current policies,” Barroso told an audience in Brussels a week ago.
While the comments drew ire from German lawmakers in Merkel’s coalition, Germany’s government said that Barroso’s position was in accord with Berlin and stressed that Europe must be flexible in how it responds to economic distress.
German Deputy Finance Minister Steffen Kampeter said last week that the bloc’s budget rules “aren’t rigid.”
Joachim Fels, co-global head of economics at Morgan Stanley in London, Sunday cited “accumulating signs that austerity is yesterday’s policy, at least in Europe” as a signal of optimism about a global recovery in the second half.
Schaeuble offered the latest signal that Merkel’s government is adjusting its crisis stance in comments late last week. He said he’ll use Monday’s meeting in Madrid with Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos to push for an investment program that sidesteps the EU Commission.
The plan, announced on the same day that Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he was seeking a two-year extension to meeting EU deficit rules, could serve as a model for other countries suffering with battered economies, Schaeuble said.
“If the economy deteriorates, you don’t reinforce the economic downturn through deeper cuts,” he said.
The depth of Europe’s economic woes was on display last week. Unemployment in Spain rose to more than 27 percent in the first quarter, the highest since at least 1976, with more than 6 million people in the country out of work for the first time, the government in Madrid said April 25. Joblessness in the euro area as a whole stood at a record 12 percent in February.
The ECB may also pull its weight. The Frankfurt-based bank will lower its benchmark rate to a record 0.5 percent when central bankers meet on May 2 in Bratislava, according to the median of 69 economist estimates compiled by Bloomberg.
To be sure, austerity measures continue in crisis-stricken euro nations. Greek lawmakers passed a bill late Sunday including plans to fire 15,000 workers by the end of next year as the government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras cleared the latest hurdle to receiving international aid payments.
As Merkel approaches national elections in less than five months, softening her stance on indebted nations in the euro area will pose a challenge. Last week she again defended scaling back budgets.
“We always talk a lot about growth in Europe, but we have to ask ourselves what we mean by that,” she told savings banks officials in a speech in the eastern city of Dresden. “Growth only on the basis of state financing won’t make us more competitive in Europe.”
International sanctions against the regime in Tehran have not been perfect, but they have worked. The government is starved for cash, and based on recent statements made by high-ranking security officials, the Islamic Republic now fears uprisings not just in urban, but also in rural, areas due to severe economic hardships.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Iran’s ultimate nuclear decision-maker, has been forced to face a grim reality. As sanctions begin to bite harder, he has two choices. He could accept a Western-backed nuclear deal and ‘drink from the poison cup’ to avoid domestic turmoil while running the risk of alienating his most loyal supporters. Otherwise, he would have to stay the course in the face of growing international pressure and drive his impoverished government off a cliff. The former would only slow down Iran’s nuclear program while keeping a rogue regime in power; the latter would provide the Iranian people with the opportunity to once again join the international community and find their well-deserved place on the global stage.
It is in the best interest of world peace to increase pressure on the Islamic Republic, forcing it into a corner where it would find itself bereft of lucrative oil revenues—and without any major allies, since Syria’s Assad is becoming more and more irrelevant each day.
Over the past thirty–three years, the Islamic Republic has claimed to be the flag bearer of global anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiments. Regime loyalists in Tehran have identified with these core values, chanting, “Death to America!” and, “Death to Israel!” at every Friday prayer for the past three decades. Diehard supporters of the Iranian government will face an identity crisis should Ayatollah Khamenei decide to drink the ‘poison’ of an American–backed nuclear agreement.
Some critics argue that Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini, Khamenei’s predecessor, drank from the infamous ‘cup of poison’ and ended the Iran–Iraq War without alienating his faithful supporters. For one, Khamenei lacks his predecessor’s charisma, legitimacy and popular appeal. He is in no position to take such a wild risk. Second, Khamenei is perhaps more ideologically anti-American and less pragmatic than his predecessor was believed to be.
During the peak days of the Iran–Iraq War, the Khomeini regime in Tehran secretly purchased weapons from Israel and hosted a high-ranking American diplomatic mission to Tehran headed by Reagan’s national security adviser, Robert McFarlane. Iran badly needed arms to fight against Iraq, and without them, regime survival was in serious jeopardy. Khomeini, despite his harsh rhetoric, authorized such purchases and meetings.
Khamenei, on the other hand, has never displayed a soft spot for the West, not even for the sake of his own regime. His hardline approach towards the West goes back to his years as a young seminary student in Qom. Khamenei was the first Iranian to translate the writings of the Egyptian radical Islamist Sayyid Al-Qutb from Arabic to Persian.
Qutb, one of the most influential intellectuals in the history of the Muslim Brotherhood, has played a significant role in shaping Khamenei’s anti-Western and anti-American views. In Khamenei’s worldview, permanent peace with the West is meaningless: he believes in taking as much as he can, while relinquishing to the Western enemy as little as possible. That has been Khamenei’s general nuclear negotiating strategy for the past ten years.
Khamenei will not bend—but if he does, it will be temporary. He is not interested in long-term deals with the US, nor is he interested in establishing meaningful ties with it. The supreme leader is determined to get as much as he can and give up as little as possible. It is now our responsibility to force him to choose the second option by standing firm on the position that nothing short of full cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency will satisfy the international community.
I would like to thank those who showered me with a torrent of angry correspondence about my previous article on Israel, who accused me of calling for a normalization of relations, promoting the Hebrew language, and glorifying Israeli liberalism.
This response was to be expected because I breached a taboo. However, I am sorry to say to those people, despite my appreciation of their opinions, that their outrage will not change the reality. Israel will remain as it is; a small state but stronger than the rest of the Arab world.
My previous article was not about the Arabs’ political stance towards Israel because this was already settled during the Beirut Summit in 2002, when the Arabs endorsed their peace initiative. This summit will forever remain a key for political resolution because it entitled the Arabs to regain their rights and establish normal relations between themselves and Israel. In my previous article, I was merely blaming the Arabs for their arrogance and for declining to know their enemy under the pretext that it would be tantamount to recognizing Israel’s existence.
However, the bitter truth is that although we Arabs refuse to openly recognize Israel, we implicitly acknowledge it through the martyrs’ tombs, the refugee camps, the Palestinian diaspora, the occupied territories, the periodical wars in Lebanon and Gaza, and the settlement projects. If we insist on denying the reality, we will remain alone in the dark.
Knowing how Israel lives, how it develops, how it learns, what it produces, and even what sports it plays is not the same as normalizing relations. Knowledge is not necessarily a relationship between two sides; it can be an individual relationship between one and oneself.
Ignorance is man’s worst enemy, whereas the greatest desire a man may have is to learn more. Curiosity and the urge to understand are intrinsic feelings akin to the instincts of thirst and hunger. The honorable Arab nation must ask how it can ever hope to find its way in the dark when it keeps turning away from the light of the torch.
It is not necessary for the Arabs to learn the Hebrew language in order to understand their enemy. Not all the Israelis can speak Arabic well, nor do they have the inclination to do so. However, because language is one of the tools of knowledge, Hebrew must at least be on the radar of Israel’s neighboring states because Israel will remain their neighbor as well as their enemy for some time to come. Do not believe the calls to wipe Israel off the map, only the US search engine Google can do this.
Arabic is an official language in Israel because one-fifth of the population is Arab. However, Israel’s Arabs are not the main impetus behind the push to study Arabic there. The reason for the Israeli eagerness to do so is because isolation, even if they were a stronger force, will never be in their interests. Although we believe that we are in a state of war with Israel, the war is a trick, a trick based on knowledge.
You do not have to go far to find this out. Just browse some internet sites and observe the number of pages Israel has posted with both Arabic and Hebrew language support for readers. Look at the number of Israeli newspapers and magazines with Arabic-language versions, some of which specialize in the customs and traditions of the Middle East, whereas others carry domestic news of Arab states that Israel considers as enemies.
To add further salt to the wound, consider what the spokesman of the Israeli ministry of defense says on Twitter. You would be amazed to know that he is a thirty-year-old man who speaks Arabic fluently, posting tweets and news on the Israeli army. During every Islamic religious occasion, he tweets the Israeli army’s congratulations to Muslims and says may you have a happy Eid, may your fast be accepted and may your pilgrimage be blessed. By the very nature of the medium, the Israeli spokesman is not addressing Israel’s Arabs or the Palestinians only, but rather he is addressing all the Arabs on Twitter. He is provoking them through calm dialogue and even if they react with outrage and unleash a torrent of swearwords and insults, he continues with his endeavor. He is not keeping pace with them, rather he is targeting their cultural depth.
In addition to the language issue, notice how the Arab media deals with Israel. It never dares to publish news of a cultural or economic nature-even some political stories are banned-because it fears that ordinary people would accuse it of championing Zionism. Thus, Arabic media outlets avoid presenting the facts in full and instead publish only a few of them. Even at the time when the wars on Gaza and Lebanon were at their peak, Arab satellite channels were cautious or altogether avoided hosting someone to speak for the Israeli side. Of course, this was to ensure that Arab self-opinionated audiences would not turn against such media outlets, even though listening to both sides of the story is the crux of any journalistic work. Only Al-Arabiya dared to buck the trend, and it was not long before some branded it as Zionist for choosing to do so.
The Arabs have been preoccupied with range and blind hatred since 1967. During this time, Israel has managed to build eight public universities and 200 museums that receive nearly 4 million tourists a year. It has also become a rival to the US in the programming and software industry.
Without meaning to further enrage those furious Arab zealots, let me also say that Israel’s annual GDP is USD 240 billion. Annual US aid does not exceed 1.5 percent of this figure and three quarters of this aid is spent on weaponry. In this sense Washington is giving with one hand and taking away with the other. Hence it is untrue to claim that America is feeding the Israelis and funding their education and health; Israel is a rich state that does not need others to support it. Its economic figures, to a large extent, are close to that of South Korea.
We must understand the Israelis to know how we compare. Wars cannot be won by sentiments of hatred alone; otherwise the Arabs would have dominated the world long ago.
Know your enemy so as not to suffer greater losses. This is all that I am saying.