Interview of Foreign Policy Contributor Peter Tase with Mahmoud Reza Golshanpazhooh, Executive Editor of Iran Review
Mahmoudreza Golshanpazhooh completed his PhD in International Relations at the University of Tehran. He has over ten years of experience in Human Rights, NGOs and Iran’s soft power. He serves as Executive Editor of the Iran Review, Deputy of Research at Tehran International Studies & Research Institute, and Director of Human Rights at the Center for Strategic Studies, Islamic Republic of Iran.
Q: What are some of the current outcomes from the economic reforms implemented by the Government of Hassan Rouhani?
A: To mention the most important economic measures taken by the administration of Mr. [Hassan] Rouhani one may refer to controlling last year’s runaway inflation, curbing the country’s negative economic growth and initiating a positive growth process, as well as bringing relative stability to the foreign exchange market, though a large part of that was the result of the restoration of psychological calm in the society. In fact, in parallel to boosting Iran’s role in international diplomatic processes by encouraging and strengthening a professional approach to foreign policy issues, Mr. Rouhani tried to restore stability, peace and hope to domestic economic sphere as well. This was a very important goal for the administration of Mr. Rouhani, so that, one may claim that all the diplomatic achievements of his government over the past year have been in the service of improving the country’s economic situation.
Q: How are the nuclear deal negotiations between the six powers and Iran is perceived by the public in Iran and local experts?
A: There is a high degree of optimism about the future prospect of [Iran’s nuclear] negotiations [with the six world powers] among the Iranian public. The support accorded to Iran’s negotiating team by the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Establishment [Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei] and the professional nature of the Iranian nuclear negotiating team are two factors which have further strengthened a general sense of trust and optimism in the society. Both people and experts have reached the conclusion that the final goal of the Iranian negotiating team, despite what domestic and foreign opponents of negotiations have been trying to induce, is not to merely engage in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear energy program and have the anti-Iran sanctions removed at any cost. This was especially proved after problems surfaced in the recent nuclear talks in [the Austrian capital city of] Vienna, which almost halted the negotiations. The nuclear issue has now turned into a matter of honor and national pride for the Iranian people even in spite of the hardships they have suffered as a result of unjust unilateral sanctions. Therefore, the method used by Iranian negotiators during the talks has been aimed at attracting the support and trust of an absolute majority of the Iranian people, experts and officials.
Recent remarks made by two of the Islamic Republic’s highest ranking military and political officials during the past few weeks about the necessity to support the administration of Mr. Rouhani, clearly proved that the approach taken by Rouhani’s administration to the nuclear issue has been institutionalized and enjoys the support of both people and officials. It is noteworthy that both Mr. [Hassan] Firouzabadi [who is an Iranian military officer and the Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces] and Mr. [Ali] Saeedi, the Iranian Leader’s representative in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, who made those remarks, are usually considered as critics of Rouhani’s administration.
Q: Please share with us some of the positive recent developments in the diplomatic relations between Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan?
A: The quality of relations between Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan, regardless of any difference that may exist between the two countries, is cordial. There are two important factors, namely, racial and religious commonalities, which do not allow these two countries to become outright enemies under any circumstances. Although there have been differences in viewpoints and even sometimes severe friction between Iran and Azerbaijan during past years, the collective wisdom in the two countries has so far prevented tensions from rising to a level which would get out of control. The method used to deal with the issue of Karabakh, presence of Israeli secret agents in Azerbaijan, movements by certain separatist and Pan-Turk elements along Iran’s borders with Azerbaijan, determination of a legal regime for the Caspian Sea, the method chosen to manage production of fossil fuel from the sea’s reserves, and the conflict between two secular and religious governments are all among the problems that currently exist in relations between Iran and Azerbaijan. Although these issues are important and some of them have even led to differences in viewpoints and tension in bilateral relations, the officials in both countries are well aware that escalation of tensions is to nobody’s benefit. The recent trip to Iran by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and useful negotiations between the two sides clearly proved that both countries are bent on improving their relations. I am sure that as time goes by and in view of new realities that emerge in Caucasus region as well as in the Middle East, the viewpoints of the two countries on such issues as the management of energy resources in the Caspian Sea, transfer of energy and the quality of relations with neighboring countries, including Armenia, Turkey and Russia, will get closer.
Q: What is the present state of commercial and trade relations between Iran and the European Union Countries?
A: Before the imposition of unilateral sanctions against Iran, the European Union was the biggest trade partner of Iran. At present, however, the volume of trade between the two sides is very low. The volume of Iran’s trade with Europe is currently even lower that the volume of trade between the Islamic Republic and the United States. This issue has even led to protests in certain European countries where businesspeople have reached the conclusion that the United States has blocked the way to the activities of European companies in Iran while letting its own companies to promote their cooperation with Iranian entities, especially with regard to foodstuff and pharmaceutical industries. At any rate, regardless of whether such assumptions are right or wrong, extensive trade ties that Iran had in past years with such European countries as Germany, Italy, France, UK, and even countries like Austria and Ukraine, have been lost through the political game of sanctions. There is, however, hope that when the ongoing nuclear talks reach a final result, Iran and the European Union would be once more able to avail themselves of the benefits of bilateral financial and trade cooperation; a cooperation which will be certainly to both sides’ benefit.
Q: What is the Islamic Republic of Iran doing in order to diminish poverty and improve the conditions of public works and infrastructure in the country?
A: Iranians carried out their revolution in 1979 and only seven months later, [Iraq’s former dictator] Saddam Hussein imposed a war on them, which has come to be known as the longest warfare of the 20th century. The war ended in 1988 at which time Iran’s economy was totally in ruins (let’s not forget the West’s all-out support for Saddam and even economic abuses made by certain Latin American countries in those years and later invasion of Kuwait by Saddam just two years after his war with Iran ended). Since that time, almost five five-year development plans have been carried out in the country as a result of which the people’s livelihood has got much better compared to 35 years ago in spite of the fact that the country’s population has doubled during that period of time. Although economic sanctions, global conditions and some domestic mismanagement has at times created obstacles on the way of this development process, at present, about 100 percent of the entire Iran is blessed with electricity, healthy drinking water, health care, roads and other vital infrastructure. The government has been also phasing out subsidies on consumer goods and has been injecting those subsidies directly into people’s lives and this plan has been in gear for a few years despite certain structural problems. Let’s not forget that since about two years ago, the volume of Iran’s oil revenues greatly reduced due to unilateral and coercive sanctions adopted against Iran by the United States and Europe. Iran, however, is now among few countries which have no considerable foreign debt.
Q: How would you consider the bilateral relations between United States and Iran, considering that in the last two months both countries are engaged in negotiations?
A: There is a strange but powerful reality in the world of diplomacy: You can have political or economic relations with a country, but at the same time you can choose a totally different way to deal with various issues and be completely opposed to the policies and approaches adopted by the other country. This reality is gradually imposing itself on Iran and the United States after the lapse of 35 years [since the two countries severed diplomatic ties]. The representatives of Iran and the United States have frequently met in the past few months while before that and up to a few years ago, it was not possible for two high-ranking Iranian and American officials to go through a given corridor of the United Nations at the same time! Therefore, this is per se a historical development. Regardless of the final result of nuclear negotiations and even given the possibility that Iran and the United States may come to loggerheads over certain issues, this historical development will, no doubt, influence the future outlook of bilateral relations between the two countries. Of course, the way has been already paved for the two countries to have closer relations as a result of the necessity to launch joint efforts to manage such issues as the growing extremism in the Middle East in view of recent developments in Iraq and the growth of Salafist terrorist groups in Syria, which enjoy the West’s support; stability in Afghanistan and Iraq; and regular flow of energy from the Persian Gulf. However, I personally believe that the two countries will get closer as time goes by. As I said before, this should not be taken to mean that the two countries’ have accepted each other’s policies, but it is a positive outcome of direct and face-to-face negotiations away from biased prejudgments.
Q: The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has been a loyal partner to Tehran, when are the Iranian officials expected to visit Caracas or further strengthen the commercial relations and partnership in defense and security issues?
A: A certain part of diplomatic ties between Iran and Venezuela was the result of personal relations between [former Iranian president, Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and [the late Venezuelan president, Hugo] Chavez. The end of the former’s term in office as president and the death of the latter, has somehow taken the sizzle out of bilateral relations between Tehran and Caracas. However, the two countries have indicated their willingness to maintain a positive relationship. Relations between Iran and Venezuela are totally logical especially as two member states of the Non-Aligned Movement and also within the framework of such international bodies as the United Nations’ developmental, economic, and human rights organs. Let’s not forget that Iranians love Latin American people, and despite the long distance between their country and Latin America and differences in customs and beliefs, Iranian people have a good feeling toward Latin American people. I believe that continuation and even further promotion of positive relations with Venezuela in addition to improvement of relations with Brazil and Argentina will be among top priorities of Iran’s foreign policy apparatus. However, the nuclear negotiations should reach a decisive result first in order to generate enough potential to put relations between Iran and other countries on the list of priorities of the Iranian diplomacy.