The Business Year

Dr. Ali Akbar Salehi

IRAN - Diplomacy

The Road to Peace

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Islamic Republic of Iran

Bio

Dr. Ali Akbar Salehi has had a long and varied career in both academia and the public sector. He obtained BSc and Master’s degrees in Physics from the American University of Beirut, and later finished a PhD in the same subject at MIT in the US. In the world of academia, he has served as Chancellor of both Iwnternational Islamic University in Tehran and Sharif University. In public life, he has represented Iran as the OIC Deputy Secretary-General in Jeddah, as the Permanent Representative of I.R. Iran to the IAEA in Vienna, and as the Vice-President and Head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization. He served as the Deputy Minister of Culture and Higher Education before being appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs.

TBY talks to Dr. Ali Akbar Salehi, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, on regional cooperation, relations with Latin America, and his country's support for stability in Afghanistan.

What role has Iran played in regional cooperation and development?

The Islamic Republic of Iran attaches great importance to enhancing regional cooperation as an important means for the growth and development of countries in the region. The emergence of several regional cooperation entities like ECO, D-8, the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC), and the Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD)—among others—are indeed important manifestations of the revival of interest in cooperation among interested countries. These organizations have significantly intensified their activities in the areas of transportation, communications, infrastructure, energy, investment, and trade. Cooperation among developing countries is not a new phenomenon. Regional cooperation constitutes an important feature of international economic cooperation in recent years. In the light of new realities and changing circumstances brought about with the end of the Cold War, globalization, and the independence among economies. Cooperation among countries of the region continues to be an integral part of the development process itself, and of international development cooperation. The emergence of new frameworks of multilateral trade cooperation, particularly in regional cooperation and integration, as well as the development of technologies in general—communications in particular—are some of the other important factors accelerating the interdependency of economies. Regional economic cooperation and integration is emerging as a central feature of the revival of interest in south-south cooperation. The strengthening of regional arrangements in a way that makes them operationally useful to their member countries are the major objectives of the cooperation between the countries of our region.

The Islamic Republic held the 16th conference of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in August 2012. What is the significance of your membership in NAM?

After the victory of the Islamic Revolution, and on the basis of fundamental principles of “neither East nor West,” the Islamic Republic of Iran joined NAM as its 88th member during the sixth summit meeting in Havana in 1979. Since its membership of NAM, Iran, as one of the active and pioneering countries, has always participated in all the summits and ministerial meetings, and it has played an active role in the process of decision making concerning important international issues. Over the last three decades, the Islamic Republic of Iran has already proven its commitments vis-í -vis the realization of the goals and objectives of the movement, and during this period my country has always been faithful to all the principles and objectives of the movement and has made significant efforts in line with defending the rights of developing countries and strengthening the solidarity among NAM members. Of course, everyone knows that for many years the Islamic Republic of Iran has been combating against certain attitudes in the international system that try to limit the freedom, independence, and progress of other countries. The proposal of the Islamic Republic of Iran to host the 16th summit meeting of NAM was presented during the 15th summit meeting in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. This was welcomed by all member states, proving the confidence of the members in the active and effective role of Iran for promoting and developing the goals and objectives of the movement. In fact, NAM has a great capacity and potential. More than two-thirds of the countries of the world are members of the movement. The decisions of the Movement can be very effective for maintaining peace, security, and justice in the world. Undoubtedly, the Islamic Republic of Iran, during its chairmanship over NAM, and as one of the members of the Movement, will make tremendous efforts in order to have an effective and efficient role in the international arena for increasing the credibility of the Movement and promoting the levels of cooperation among members on all economic, political, and cultural fields. We shall also make further efforts for the progress and development of all member states and the realization of the objectives of the Movement. Certainly, the decisions that were adopted during Tehran’s NAM meeting with the motto “sustainable peace through joint global management,” and particularly the use of effective initiatives by Iran while chairing NAM, shall all lead to the materialization of the lofty objectives of the Movement, and at the same time all the member states should try to further cooperate and create a new spirit in NAM.

What value-added does Iran bring to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)?

Enjoying a great geographical and demographical position, and thanks to its vast economic resources and independent political stances, the Islamic Republic of Iran has always been an integral and influential part of the OIC and its equations. My country has had an active participation in various meetings and discussions of the organization and has offered valuable initiatives and positions on issues including disarmament, terrorism, human rights, fighting Islamophobia, Islamic solidarity, the Palestinian problem, and other crises facing the Muslim world. The elevation and promotion of Islamic values is a vital objective, which is already incorporated in the statutes of the OIC, and Iran has left no stone unturned to this end. Moreover, Iran is one of the pioneers of the Islamic inter-parliamentary union and has been hosting its secretariat in Tehran. My country is one of the six major contributors to the OIC’s annual budget and has actively participated in the meetings of the OIC Permanent Finance Committee, which is responsible for approving its budget and considering administrative and personnel-related issues.

“Regional economic cooperation and integration is emerging as a central feature of the revival of interest in south-south cooperation.”

How would you assess your strong ties with Russia and Latin American countries?

Thanks to its development during the past two decades, Latin America has now turned into one of the world’s leading political hubs. Despite challenges, the Latin American region has played an influential role in regional and international developments due to its spectacular cultural and economic capacity in the third millennium. The Latin American region has been witness to fundamental changes in political systems, which have resulted in the establishment of indigenous democracy and increased the role of the people. In view of this regional awakening, public uprisings have been formed in the region in line with justice-seeking causes, and the formation and strengthening of political parties with progressive inclinations. The average economic growth in Latin America stands at about 4.5%. This has, in part, protected the Latin American countries against the impacts of the global economic recession, providing them with the opportunity of improving relations with the outside world, and assuming a greater role in various regional and international developments. These are all distinctive features of the Latin American region, which are going to mark an era different from the bitter experiences of colonialism in the last century. New alliances and blocs have been formed in Latin America, especially over the past 10 years. The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), UNASUR, Petrocaribe, and CELAC are a few that can be named. These formations have improved the status and trend of consolidation in Latin America as a major player in regional and international relations, which strengthened its position particularly around the axis of south-south cooperation. Regarding its economy, Latin America has turned over the past two decades into one of the important hubs of production and distribution of agricultural, industrial, and mineral products. Thanks to its open-door economic policies, Latin America has been able to turn from being a mere exporter of raw materials into a producer of semi-manufactured and final products to reach balanced economic growth—a development that can help materialize economic sustainability in this region. There is a huge potential on the one hand, and the large capacity of exports and reducing markets on the other, have encouraged the leaders in the region to resort to other parts of the world, other than the EU and the US, to develop exports and find non-traditional new markets. Therefore, consumer markets in the Persian Gulf, Central Asia, and the Caucasus have been brought to the limelight for Latin America. The Islamic Republic of Iran, as a bridge between the Persian Gulf, the Sea of Oman, Central Asia, and the Caucasus, has provided an opportunity for Latin American countries to expand exports and realize their foreign commercial goals. The foreign policy of Iran is based on responding to the calls of independent nations and states for justice, independence, and righteousness. Political, cultural, and economic commonalities between Iran and Latin America, and their shared views in the necessity of introducing change in the current international political and economic systems, have forced the two sides to take steps toward expanding relations and exchanging technical knowledge and experience. Both Iran and Latin America believe in multilateralism, peacemaking, justice seeking, and the rejection of hegemony. We both believe in diversifying domestic patterns for development and in restructuring the non-constructive policies of international financial and monetary organizations. These are the similarities between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Latin America, which could help us play a more effective and constructive role in the new world order.

How important are the efforts Iran is putting to ensure stability in Afghanistan?

Afghanistan is an important member of the international community and its domestic circumstances deeply affect the security and the stability of the region. From this angle, every step is taken toward peace and security in Afghanistan. Not only is it considered as progress for the government and people of Afghanistan, but it is also a move toward regional and global peace, and the long-suffering and damage by insecurity and instability in the country. Iran considers any positive development in this regard as progress for regional security and its national security as well. In this regard, Iran has always actively participated in the regional and international arrangements and activities over the past decade on the reconstruction of Afghanistan. We have also formally declared our preparedness to host the Sixth Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA). The financial contribution made the Islamic Republic of Iran to Afghanistan over the past decade amount to more than $500 million, including funds used for the execution of various infrastructure projects, such as the construction of 300 kilometers of roads and the 207-kilometer-long Khaf-Herat railway—a vital project that provides safe access for Afghanistan to international waters. It also funds different power and water supply projects, the construction of a specialized clinic in Kabul, the dispatch of educational advisors to Afghanistan, the admission of 600 students to Iranian universities on scholarship terms, the compilation of 400 curricula and text books for Afghan students, the provision of equipment for university libraries in five Afghan cities, and the presence of over 8,000 Afghan students in Iranian universities and over 300,000 Afghan students in Iranian schools. In addition, Iran has been host to over 3 million Afghan citizens over the past three decades and has borne huge costs for their settlement, food, medical treatment, education, and even employment. Iran is going to continue its financial assistance as well as its contributions to infrastructure projects in Afghanistan and will remain committed to all it pledges in this regard. Actually, we are presently involved in various major projects including the construction of a section of railway running from the Dugharum free-trade zone to Islam Ghale customs, building the fuel pipeline running along the Dugharun border market, the storage facilities of Islam Ghale customs, the completion of Phase IV of the Khaf-Herat railway, and the construction of the Chabhar-Zahidan railway, which if completed could bring about a landmark transformation in the Afghan economy by providing safe, easy access to international waters for the country. It is imperative for the international community to pay more attention than ever to the problem of Afghan refugees and make the necessary preparations for their return home as one of its priorities. On its course to reconstruction, Afghanistan needs specialized human resources, the governments, the UN agencies, and NGOs which have undertaken some commitments toward the Afghan refugees under the solutions strategy document drawn up between the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan for 2012 and 2013 are all required to fulfill their commitments. The Islamic Republic of Iran believes that the international community will be successful in its endeavors to help the Afghan economy grow and develop only when it can tackle the potential root causes and breeding grounds of insecurity in Afghanistan and help to restore peace and stability in the country. We do hope that with the end of the decade-long presence of outside military forces in Afghanistan, which has, unfortunately, eventuated in the entrenchment of terrorism and a surge in drug cultivation and trafficking, and with the removal of the foreign military bases in the country, we will witness the restoration of peace and stability in Afghanistan. It is also important to lay special emphasis on the responsibility of the Afghan government and civil societies, which represent different Afghan institutions and groups for the full restoration of peace and stability, and also for the enhancement of the development process in Afghanistan and ask the government to launch a more serious fight against terrorism, administrative corruption, drug trafficking, and involve all social and ethnic groups with varied political tendencies in the national reconciliation process. The Islamic Republic of Iran hopes to be able to take a major stride in the economic growth and development of Afghanistan in view of the political, security, and economic realities of this country and the whole region. We welcome boosting regional cooperation in order to contribute to the sustainable development of Afghanistan. It is a great honor to announce that the Islamic Republic of Iran was within the framework of good neighborly relations principles and in compliance with the commitments of the Tokyo and London conferences, is actively involved in various aspects of Afghanistan’s reconstruction, and fulfilled its commitments on the country’s reconstruction.

How would you assess your cooperation with the countries of the Central Asian region in order to become a political and economic hub for the whole region?

Iran and Central Asia have a very strong cultural and historical bond, which significantly facilitates our cultural and political cooperation. Religion, language, and history are the greatest factors that connect us. Geography also plays a great role. Iran is the most natural path for Central Asia to reach the rest of the world. Central Asian countries don’t have access to international waters, and the shortest way to connect them is through Iran. That makes transit through Iran a major priority for all these countries. There are several projects underway that in the near future will drastically increase the volume of transit through Iran to Central Asia. The Iran-Turkmenistan-Kazakhstan railway project is a big project, currently in its final stages. Also, the agreement recently signed and ratified by five countries—Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Oman, and Qatar—will establish an international transit corridor that will make for another possibility of cooperation between Iran, Central Asia, and the countries of the Persian Gulf. We are following other plans to include Afghanistan in this network, which will also increase the windows for Iran on Central Asia. All these efforts will be backed up by friendly relations between Iran and all Central Asian countries. Two decades after their independence, the five countries view Iran as a stable anchor in the region, and as a reliable partner.

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