Iran’s hopes from Obama: Respect, end of isolation

January 17th, 2009 - 10:06 am ICT by IANS  

Tehran, Jan 17 (DPA) Nobody in Tehran would admit it, but the international isolation since the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in August 2005 has caused Iran enormous problems both politically and economically.Due to the isolation, Islamic Iran became friendly with socialist governments in Latin America like Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia, and enjoyed celebrating anti-US ceremonies with them.

But for a country that, according to Ahmadinejad, wants to be acknowledged worldwide as a regional power and to contribute in important decision-making, isolation is detrimental.

It will be essential to improve contact with the West, and preferably even with the “Great Satan” - a term used in Iran for the United States.

This was probably also the reason why Ahmadinejad broke a taboo and congratulated Barack Obama on his election victory in November’s US presidential elections.

This was indeed a novelty in the 30-year history of the Islamic republic, and Ahmadinejad could not have issued such a statement without the blessing of the clergy’s ruling circle.

During the campaign, Obama came under fire from his domestic opponents for suggesting that he would be willing to meet Iranian leaders without preconditions, but the centre-left candidate held fast to the position.

Obama’s presidency would be the first step for Iran to escape isolation and achieve the international acknowledgement the country so desperately seeks.

Accordingly, Ahmadinejad has changed his usual harsh rhetoric and taken a much softer, reconciliatory tone.

“If the (Obama) slogan of change was real and if his approach toward Iran based on respect and friendship, then we would witness a new positive development and a new situation (in bilateral ties), which we would welcome,” he said.

“We have time and enough patience and will wait and see.”

Iran and the US have had no diplomatic ties for almost three decades, and while Washington accuses Iran of sponsoring terrorism and pursuing a secret nuclear programme, Tehran brands the US as “Great Satan” and enemy to Islam and Muslims worldwide.

Several efforts were made to improve ties, especially during the presidencies of Mohammad Khatami in Tehran and Bill Clinton in Washington, but found no momentum. The crisis reached its peak after President George W. Bush put Iran into the “axis of evil” for its potential to combine terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

With the Ahmadinejad presidency, the dispute over the Iranian nuclear programme and the anti-Israeli tirades by the president added more fuel to the fire and eventually antagonized Tehran’s European partners, too.

“During the Khatami era, Tehran had at least the European Union as political partners, but after Ahmadinejad even the EU gradually distanced itself from Iran,” a political expert in Tehran said.

Contacts between the EU and Iran in the last three years have been limited to Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy and security chief, with the agenda limited to the nuclear dispute and Western demands for Iran to stop its uranium-enrichment programme.

Due to Tehran’s constant refusal to suspend enrichment, not only the contact to Solana dwindled to a minimum, but Iran’s ties with Russia and China as well as the Arab states were overshadowed, too.

Resumption of bilateral talks with the Obama administration on the nuclear dispute or crisis spots in the region could bring Iran back into the limelight and blaze a trail towards improvement of ties with the EU, observers predict.

Ahmadinejad has several times indicated that Iran would be ready to help the US in Iraq and Afghanistan if Washington dropped its hostile policies toward Iran.

Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, believes that in the nuclear dispute, direct participation of the US as well as the EU in talks with Iran might lead to a breakthrough or at least a compromise to ease tensions.

“The two might agree in bilateral issues and even help each other in Iraq and Afghanistan, but as soon as the Middle East issue and especially Israel came up, the new harmony would soon be shattered,” an EU diplomat in Tehran said.

Tehran would neither acknowledge Israel as a sovereign state, stop its support for anti-Israel groups nor agree to any peace initiative.

“The Zionist regime (Israel) is on the verge of collapse, and even its most loyal allies could no longer prevent this,” Ahmadinejad has said, a point he makes frequently.

There would be another chance for the two states to improve ties.

Presidential elections are scheduled for later this year in Iran. Political turbulence and economic crisis have fuelled popular discontent, and change after the June 12 elections remains possible.

“A Khatami as president could move a lot, also in relations with the US,” said reformist politician and former deputy interior minister Mostafa Tajzadeh.

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