When I campaigned to become President of Iran, I promised to balance realism and the pursuit of the Islamic Republic’s ideals—and won Iranian voters’ support by a large margin. By virtue of the popular mandate that I received, I am committed to moderation and common sense, which is now guiding all of my government’s policies. That commitment led directly to the interim international agreement reached in November in Geneva on Iran’s nuclear programme. It will continue to guide our decision-making in 2014.
Indeed, in terms of foreign policy, my government is discarding extreme approaches. We seek effective and constructive diplomatic relations and a focus on mutual confidence-building with our neighbours and other regional and international actors, thereby enabling us to orient our foreign policy toward economic development at home. To this end, we will work to eliminate tensions in our foreign relations and strengthen our ties with traditional and new partners alike. This obviously requires domestic consensus-building and transparent goal-setting—processes that are now underway.
While we will avoid confrontation and antagonism, we will also actively pursue our larger interests. But, given an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, challenges can be addressed only through interaction and active cooperation among states. No country—including big powers—can effectively address on its own the challenges that it faces.
Indeed, developing and emerging economies’ rapid catch-up growth suggests that their aggregate economic weight is about to surpass that of the advanced world. Today’s developing and emerging countries are likely to account for nearly 60% of world gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030, up from around 40% in 2000, enabling them to play a much greater role on the world stage.
In such a period of transition, Iran can enhance its global role. The election this year, in which close to 75% of eligible voters turned out, showed how our religious democracy is maturing. Iran’s ancient culture and civilization, long state continuity, geopolitical position, social stability amid regional turmoil, and well-educated youth enable us to look to the future with confidence, and aspire to assume the major global role that our people deserve—a role that no actor in global politics can ignore.
We are also considering how to rebuild and improve our bilateral and multilateral relations with European and North American countries on the basis of mutual respect. This requires easing tensions and implementing a comprehensive approach that includes economic ties.
We can begin by avoiding any new strain in relations between Iran and the US and, at the same time, endeavouring to eliminate inherited tensions that continue to mar relations between our countries. While we may not be able to forget the mistrust and suspicion that have haunted Iranians’ thinking about US governments for the last 60 years, now we must focus on the present and look to the future. That means rising above petty politics and leading, rather than following, pressure groups in our respective countries.
In our view, cooperating on issues of mutual interest and concern would contribute to easing tensions in our region as well. This means countering those in the US and our region who seek to distract international attention from issues in which they are directly involved and prevent Iran from enhancing its regional status. By diminishing the prospects for a permanent negotiated agreement on our nuclear programme, such behaviour increases the likelihood that the Iran-US standoff will continue.
Our region is grappling more than ever with sectarianism, group enmities, and potential new breeding grounds for extremism and terrorism. At the same time, the recent use of chemical weapons in Syria could haunt the region’s peoples for many years. We believe that, under such circumstances, a voice of moderation in the region could affect the course of events in a constructive and positive way.
There is no doubt that the turmoil in nearby countries affects the interests of many regional and global actors, which need to act in concert to ensure long-term stability. Iran, as a major regional power, is fully prepared to move in this direction, sparing no effort to facilitate solutions. So those who portray Iran as a threat and thus seek to undermine its regional and global credibility should cease—in the interest of peace and tranquillity in the region and beyond.
I am profoundly disturbed over the humanitarian tragedy in Syria and the enormous suffering that the Syrian people have endured for nearly three years. Representing a people who have experienced the horror of chemical weapons, my government strongly condemned their use in the Syrian conflict. I am also concerned that parts of Syrian territory have become breeding grounds for extremist ideologies and rallying points for terrorists, which is reminiscent of the situation on our eastern border in the 1990s. This is an issue of concern to many other countries as well, and finding a durable political solution in Syria requires cooperation and joint efforts.
So we are pleased that in 2013 diplomacy prevailed over threats of military intervention in Syria. We must build on this headway and understand that Syria is in dire need of coordinated regional and international efforts. We are ready to contribute to peace and stability in Syria in the course of serious negotiations among regional and extra-regional parties. Here, too, we need to prevent the talks from becoming a zero-sum game.
That is no less true of Iran’s peaceful nuclear energy programme, which has been subject to enormous hype in recent decades. Since the early 1990s, one prediction after another regarding how close Iran was to acquiring a nuclear bomb has proved baseless. Throughout this period, alarmists tried to paint Iran as a threat to the Middle East and the world.
We all know who the chief agitator is, and what purposes are to be served by hyping this issue. We know also that this claim fluctuates in proportion to the amount of international pressure to stop settlement construction and end the occupation of Palestinian lands. These false alarms continue, despite US national intelligence estimates according to which Iran has not decided to build a nuclear weapon.
In fact, we are committed not to work toward developing and producing a nuclear bomb. As enunciated in the fatwa issued by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, we strongly believe that the development, production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are contrary to Islamic norms. We never even contemplated the option of acquiring nuclear weapons, because we believe that such weapons could undermine our national security interests; as a result, they have no place in Iran’s security doctrine. Even the perception that Iran may develop nuclear weapons is detrimental to our security and overall national interest.
During my presidential campaign, I committed myself to doing everything in my power to fast-track a resolution to the standoff over our nuclear-energy programme. To fulfil this commitment and benefit from the window of opportunity that the recent election opened, my government is prepared to leave no stone unturned in seeking a mutually acceptable permanent solution. Following up on November’s interim agreement, we are ready to continue to work with the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) and others with a view to ensuring our nuclear programme’s full transparency.
The peaceful nuclear capability that we have achieved will be used within an internationally recognized framework of safeguards, and it will be accessible to multilateral monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency, as has been the case in the past several years. In this way, the international community can ensure the exclusively peaceful nature of our nuclear programme. We will never forgo our right to benefit from nuclear energy; but we are ready to work toward removing any ambiguity and answer any reasonable question about our program.
The continuation of pressure, arm-twisting, intimidation, and measures aimed at cutting off Iranians’ access to a whole range of necessities—from technology to medicines and foodstuffs—can only poison the atmosphere and undermine the conditions needed to make progress.
As we showed in 2013, Iran is fully prepared to engage seriously with the international community and to negotiate with our interlocutors in good faith. We hope that our counterparts, too, are ready to take advantage of this window of opportunity. ©2013/PROJECT SYNDICATE
Hassan Rouhani is President of Iran.