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KHATAMI'S FIRST 100 DAYS:

How is the the "Honeymoon" going?

"Iran's role is likely to be even more probleamtic. A return to a pro-Western posture would certainly facilitate the stabilization and consolidation the regand it is therefore strategically desirable for America to en, nurage such a return in Iran is (onduct. But until that happens, Iran is likely to play a negative role."

Zbigniew Zbrezinski- The Grand Chessboar


It has been over 100 days since Seyyed Mohammad Khatami took office as the new president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In the United States and other democratic nations, assessments of the newly elected leaders and legislatures have been part of the democratic process of communicating with the public. Therefore, it should not be seen as inappropriate to place the spotlight on the newly elected government in Tehran. This new government's progress, or lack thereof, must be made manifest to the Iranians who brought it into power. It is thus responsible and answerable for its shortcomings and failures to the same people.

Focus on Iran, in its assessment of the "first 100 days", has highlighted 10 specific shortcomings or indeed failures of the newly elected Khatami govemment.

1- NO CHANGE IN OVERALL DOMESTIC AND FOREIGN POLICY

For public welfare, economic reform, freedom of press, active political parties and combating corruption, nothing has been done. Repression, political persecution, torture and gross violation of human rights, especially rights of women, continue. The shortcomings and failures of the Khatami government's domestic policies will be discussed in greater detail in the future issues of Focus on Iran. In the international relations and foreign policy there appears to be no discernible change from the negative aspects of the former administration, namely that of Rafsanjani's. Specifically, Iran finds itself viewed as a "pariah" nuclear weapons and their means of delivery. Furthermore, it is important to note that neither President Khatami, nor his foreign minister, have presented a statement or agenda for the direction of their foreign policy or, order of priorities/ imperatives for future initiatives.

The failure of the Khatami administration to make its foreign policy program and priorities unambiguous to the international community reduces its credibility, raises suspicion as to its intentions and most importantly, could result in detrimental effects on the security and stability of the Iranian people in the long term. If Iran wishes to be a major player in the international arena it must be trusted, it must achieve respect and credibility which its former presidents have failed to gain. To date, this administration is failing to do so.

2- FAILURE TO IMPROVE RELATIONS WITH THE UNITED STATES

Closely related to (1) above, but more to the point, Khatami's administration has shown no inclination towards even taking the first step for normalization of relations with the United States. Nonetheless, the United States has placed the anti-regime Mojahedeen-e-Khalgh (operating from Iraq) on its State Department terrorist list. To date, the current government has failed to acknowledge or respond to American initiative and good will gesture. As mentioned in (1) above, Iran's support of terrorism, acquisition of weapons of mass destruction, and destabilization efforts, are the main issues of contention between the United States and Iran over the past decade. Islamic Republic's response so far has been the continuation of its long-standing antiAmerican propaganda program for both domestic and international consumption.

The failure of Khatami and his predecessors to appreciate the importance and good will of the United States in the international community prove their neglect of national security and economic interests of Iran and their lack of understanding for political realities. This is especially true in the area of international finance and trade. Much of the
Islamic Republic's financial difficulties and failures to improve its industrial and commercial infrastructure can be traced to its poor standing and credibility in the international financial community. Failure of the Islamic Republic to receive American support in its financial negotiations has virtually closed the door to acquiring any relief for its economy's distress.

3-THE INITIATIVE UNDERTAKEN TO ACQUIRE WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION

Within the past five years or so, the Rafsanjani and, now the new Khatami administration have pursued a program of acquiring weapons of mass destruction. The putative source for materials and weapons of mass destruction, have been identified as the Peoples Democratic Republic of Korea (North Korea), the Peoples Republic of China, and Russia. As much as it could now be ascertained, the desired weapons of mass destruction, under past and present pursuit, are focused on nuclear materials, fabricated detonators and warheads and missile delivery means, notably the NODANG medium range missile from North Korea. It should be mentioned that President Jiang Zemin in his recent visit to the United States declared that China would no longer provide Iran with materials which could be used for mass destruction purposes. Nevertheless, it can be expected that the Khatami government will continue its pursuit of nuclear weapon materials from other willing sources.

The activities of the Tehran regime herein discussed is not only dangerous to the security of the Middle East region, but to the people of Iran. The main issue here, more than anything else, is the irresponsibility of this theocratic regime and the vile strategy that it follows. From a national strategic security perspective, Iran faces no threat from any source that justifies a nuclear (biological, or chemical) weapons arsenal. This assessment includes past, present and future security threats to Iran. For the Iranian people, this pursuit means loss of hard currency and earnings vital for its financial improvement, if not survival. Far more dangerous to the Iranian people is the likely possibility of inviting preemptive strikes at identified and verified sites of facilities or deployment of weapons of mass production. In this event, collateral human casualties and material destruction is highly probable. If there is any new program which the Khatami administration could undertake to improve the status of the state and the security of its people it would be to cease the irrational and dangerous pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. If it does nothing else, abandoning this pursuit, will win the gratitude and admiration of the Iranian people along with the international community.

4- FAILURE FOR A TIMELY IMPROVEMENT OF RELATIONS WITH THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITY


The Fatwa of Ayatollah Khomeini for Salman Rushdie's head still remains in force. The recent "guilty of murder" verdict against the Tehran political leadership is an indictment if not proof, of the clerical regime's support for terrorism. In this instance, the victims of state sponsored terrorism were 4 leaders of the Kurdish opposition. Its ineptness and failure to deal with the embarrassment has resulted in a near break with German government. The clerical regime's support for terrorism and the verdict of Berlin court caused a diplomatic crises between Tehran and European governments and because of that the European ambassadors were recalled to their countries for consultation, lasting several months, and have only recently returned to Tehran. The repercussions of this series of events has further discredited the Tehran regime in the eyes of European governments and the people. The result of the testimony and the verdict in Berlin is to affirm Islamic Republic's participation if not indictment of State-sponsored terrorism. The Khatami administration made little effort, to ameliorate this diplomatic crisis with Germany and European Governments.

5- DETERIORATION OF RELATIONS WITH PAKISTAN

Since its independence, Pakistan has developed a very close relationship with Iran. The relationship was based on political, strategic cultural and economic factors. After the Revolution, the clerics paid far less attention to those important factors and instead tried to proselytize their brand of Shia ideology in Pakistan as well as in Afghanistan. At the same time, Pakistan supported the Sunni fundamentalist Taliban in Afghanistan, and thus rivalry and competition replaced cooperation. Irrespective of the factional forces and their international supporters, the fact remains that this internal struggle in Afghanistan should not be the focus of outside powers. Mr. Khatami would be well advised to cut its loses and remove itself from the Afghan quagmire lest Iran put itself exposing lives in an insoluble conflict with no foreseeable end. Furthermore, Iran's diplomatic isolation does not need yet another adversary across its south-eastern border. Pakistan for years has been a friend of Iran; it would be a folly to bring about the enmity of Pakistan for questionable gain in Afghanistan for promotion of religious ideology.

6- IRAN AND TURKEY: Need for skillful diplomatic and political leadership.

Iran's relation with Turkey is quite important for its economic and strategic security, even more so than with any of its bordering states. Firstly, Turkey is the transit route for Iran to Europe. Secondly, Turkey offers the means for Iran to transport its petroleum and natural gas pipe through that country to the Mediterranean port of Alexandretta (Iskenderun). The economic ties that the pipeline offers has political and strategic benefits for Iran's future status not only in the region, but in the international economic environment. The problem facing the Tehran leadership, especially President Khatami and his foreign policy (if indeed he controls it), is the inability to reconcile its militant and strident Islamic fundamentalism, and its promotion in Turkey, and the anti-Israeli attitudes. This reconciliation needs to be accomplished by an extremely adept and far-sighted foreign policy and leadership in the face of a Turkish secular government and the latter's growing military and strategic relationship with Israel. Added to the above critical differences between the two countries, is the persistent issue of the Kurds on their mutual frontiers which has a potential danger for each of them. It appears that Mr. Khatami will have no power to deal effectively with this complex relationships. To this date, Khatami has given no reason for optimism for a beneficial solution.

7- THE INABILITY OF TEHRAN TO UNDERSTAND THE UNITED STATES' OBJECTIVES, INTENTIONS OR SIGNALS

This discussion concerning Iran-U.S. relations is closely related to the discussion in (2) above. In this instance, it is certain that the Tehran leadership has failed to comprehend, and appreciate the United States' strong position concerning Islamic Republic's lack of respect for human rights and democracy, its belligerent strategic and ideological policy in the Middle East and its support of worldwide terrorism. Furthermore, the clerical regime has failed to understand American public opinion against the revolutionary government resulting from the 444 days of Americans held captive in its Embassy. As a result of this failure, Tehran has, since 1979 made no effort or even attempt to understand the U.S. political, emotional and strategic interests. In short, it appears that the Khatami government's apparent policy, its blindness towards the United States, will persist, even if in the long run, it would prove harmful to the national interest of Iran.

8-CONFUSING AND AMBIGUOUS RELATIONSHIP WITH SADDAM HUSSEIN"S IRAQ

Ever since the end of the bloody and destructive war with Iraq, the Tehran leadership has conducted an extraordinary ambiguous if not strange relationship with Saddam Hussein's Iraq. No clear inter-state policy has been enunciated from Tehran in the past nor is it likely to do so in the near future. During the Persian Gulf pre-war and war crisis, the Tehran government chose to remain virtually silent in the face of obvious aggression and threats to its neighbors.

The clerical regime of Tehran missed a great opportunity to join the international community in opposing Iraqi aggression, and achieving a degree of responsibility and credibility. Since the end of the war, there have been numerous visits by important Iraqi and Iranian officials to and from Baghdad and Tehran. Only recently Iran's Minister of Health, Dr. Marandi visited Baghdad and invited Saddam Hussein to visit Tehran in December '97 to attend the International Islamic Conference. It should be noted that this seemingly friendly gesture to Baghdad is done in the face of Iraq's support of the anti-Tehran Mojahedeen-e Khalgh (based in Iraq) and the opposition of the Iranian public, military establishment and the Revolutionary Guards. The minimal requirement for public and military support for friendly relations with Iraq would be the latter's adherence to the agreements for the return of the POW's and the payment of reparations and restitution. How could anyone with a minimal knowledge of Saddam Hussein's credibility and rationality expect otherwise? Future relations with Baghdad may very well be President Khatami's greatest challenge. We believe that in the context of the present crisis between Baghdad and the United Nations, Tehran has an excellent opportunity to exercise regional leadership in opposing the threat to the international community. By exerting its leadership in concert with the U.N., Tehran can re-establish its credibility for future negotiations with Baghdad over reparation and other unsettled differences resulting from Saddam's aggression against Iran and the war which lasted for 8 years.

In order to achieve this leadership status and international respect, the current administration must make greater effort to control and guide the nation, however, there seems to be little indication that Mr. Khatami can benefit from this opportunity and thus it is unlikely that he will bring about any rational change in the Tehran's long-standing confused and ambiguous relations with Baghdad.

9- THE DANGEROUS AND DESTRUCTIVE OPPOSITION TO THE MIDDLE EAST PEACE PLAN

The continuing opposition to the U.S. backed Middle East peace plan stems from Tehran's immovable position towards the United State and Israel. In reality, this position does little to enhance Iran's stature and respect in the international community. Iran has found itself supporting the Hezballah and Hamas terrorist groups, not to mention Syria, in this anti-peace effort. This policy of Tehran's leadership finds its roots in the Islamic Fundamentalist ambition to "liberate" Jerusalem in the name of Islam - probably under Shia leadership. The irrationality of this political-religious ambition is obvious. The obviousness is based on the fact that such a realization of the clerical ambitions could not be achieved without a Middle East war. More over, it does not have the support of the totality of the Islamic world which is predominantly Sunni. Furthermore, the long-term resolution of the Israeli-Syrian hostility may rest on a quid pro quo, i.e. Syria receives the Golan Heights for Damascus abandoning the Hezballah and recognition of Israel. In that event, Tehran could find itself as "odd man out" once more in the international arena. Furthermore, Tehran's support for Hamas does not accord with Yassir Arafat's program for the Palestine Authority's Leadership. The survival of the Palestinian state very much depends on a peaceful settlement of the Middle East crises. The prospects for Khatami changing this "ill-advised policy" of the Islamic Republic is most probably nil.

10- THE NEGATIVE ASPECT OF THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC'S RECENT OIL DEALS

The recent oil deals between Tehran on one side and Russia, Malaysia, and France on the other, may very well have detrimental long-run effects. This assessment, perhaps not currently obvious may have its negative consequences in the future. Among the negative considerations is the likely prospect of U.S. sanctions against those states dealing with Iran, the association of those states with an acknowledged state supporting terrorism, and unreliability and dangerous course of Tehran's foreign relations endeavors. Simply put, the Mullah's confused and self-defeating foreign policy may come to naught. Moreover, the Iranian public is little aware of the "deal" nor has all the costs-benefits been made public. There is a strong likelihood that the benefits for Iran, especially from a financially troubled
Russia, may be minimal despite present day appearance.

CONCLUSION

Much of the negative assessment of recently elected President Mohammad Khatami's administration has its basis not in a dislike or distrust in the President. Rather, it is founded on the fact that Khatami is not the muster of his own political agenda or program. Though relatively "moderate" when compared to other candidates in the last presidential elections, he is far from being a moderate in the context of democratic political standards. In actuality, Khatami serves at the convenience and more importantly, the approval of the absolute leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who has no respect for democracy, human rights and freedom in Iran. Furthermore, this bodes pessimism for any hope that Khatami can achieve necessary vital domestic and foreign initiatives. Mr. Khatami, thus faces the powerful opposition of the Supreme leader, former president Rafsanjani and radical clerics as well. Mr. Rafsanjani who has been responsible for the misery of Iranian people for 18 years and is one of the architects of international terrorism now controls the Council For Expediency for Discernment (the new politburo of Islamic Republic), continues to act as if he is still the real president of Iran .

It is now obvious that a contest of power is taking place within the clerical leadership; the outcome of that internecine conflict may indeed be beneficial to the Iranians and the country. The near term likely prospects for change under Khatami's administration is stalemated until the "dust has settled". Certainly, Khatami will take a wait and see attitude, thus increasing his prospects for more than 100 days to reach a valid assessment of his total political effectiveness. The people of Iran who voted for Mr. Khatami are indeed watching him and the ruling clerics quite carefully. If he fails to deliver his promises to the People and remains subservient to the Supreme leader, Iranians will decide and find a truly independent national leader who could commit himself to liberation and freedom of the people, to tranquility in Iran and peace and stability in the region.



 

 

 

 


 

 






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