Impact of American Middle East Policy on Iran and Iraq
J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)
Lord Peter Temple-Morris (Chairman, British-Iranian Parliamentary Group)
Dr Mamdouh Salameh (Oil Economist/World Bank Consultant)
Sadegh Saba (BBC Persian Service)
Dr. Ali Ansari (Lecturer, University of Exeter)
In February 2004, a Japanese consortium signed an enormousUS$2 billion (215 billion yen) deal with Iran to develop the huge Azadegan oilfield, which lies close to the boarder with Iraq. Despite Japanese support for the Iraq war and the dispatching troops to assist with Iraqi reconstruction, the deal was shapely criticized by the Bush administration.* Iran, along with Iraq and North Korea, is a member of President George W. Bush's "Axis of Evil."
Many saw the Azadegan deal as a sign of Tokyo's strong comment to maintaining its economic ties in the region and to developing its own distinctive Middle East policy.
Japan's involvement in both Iran and Iraq create a complex set of challenges for Japanese diplomats. Some of the difficulty in formulating foreign policy in the region can be seen from the short discussion below which took place at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London on 22 April 2004.
Sean Curtin: What impact do you think President Bush's controversial Middle East policy is having on ordinary Iranians?
Lord Peter Temple-Morris: The standard right-wing reaction of the more Islamic, more powerful side is an enormous anti-American rant, whatever the Americans do. I think the "Axis of Evil" thing went down like a lead balloon. It didn't help anyone who wanted a constructive dialogue. But I think they are extremely critical of anything the Americans do, will do, have done or whatever. But amongst the more progressive elements in the foreign ministry, and so on, there is a heavy streak of reality that knows they have to get along with the Americans. That is why they are having the current dialogue. That is the real world, but in modern day Iran the real world often doesn't get there.
Dr. Mamdouh Salameh: Don't you think that the American policy in Iraq has played right into the hands of the conservative factions in Iran? Now they know that the Americans cannot threaten them militarily if they are not able to control Iraq on its own.
Sadegh Saba: I think the future of Iraq is very important for Iran. There are two views amongst analysts about what Iran is seeking in Iraq. Whether Iran wants a successful Shiite majority, democratic Iraq or whether Iran wants chaos in Iraq. Both of these pose challenges and problems for Iran. A democratic, modern Shiite government in Iraq could be a rival for the Iranian regime. In that case, the Iranian city of Ghom might lose its importance as the centre of Shiite learning and Najaf would become an important place. Also, if you have a democratic Shiite government as a neighbor, then the Iranians may want the same for their own country. So, on that basis, some people believe that Iran may want chaos in Iraq and not a successful resolution of the problems in Iraq. At the same time, Iranian foreign policy in recent years, as far as its neighgbours are concerned, has always wanted stability. They have always thought that if there are problems and chaos in the neighbourhood that will also affect Iran. Generally speaking, I think for the Iranians, a modern Shiite democracy in Iraq could cause more problems rather than chaos.
Lord Peter Temple-Morris: In the short-term, I think it has strengthened the hand of the conservatives in the fact that they are able to have a dialogue with the Americans who hope they will listen. It is necessary for them to listen. But I think for any Iranian, whether in or outside the country, who can see beyond their nose [knows that] this situation in Iraq is not going to last indefinitely. Hopefully, not anyway. Once it settles down to a more moderate Shiite administration with a hefty American influence and a modern oil and gas industry and all the rest of it. The presence of that country Iraq, the traditional rival of Iran, right next door to it and really very close to the West, giving a proper secular government but with proper Islamic expression that could potentially be quite lethal to the present administration in Tehran.
Dr. Ali Ansari: Wherever we have war and instability, we can be sure that the pictures being broadcast on Iranian television are not of a great success story in Iraq. Wherever you have wars, conservative trends are encouraged whether that is in Iran, the United Kingdom or the United States.
The above debate took place at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London on 22 April 2004.
* On 18 February 2004, Richard Boucher, U.S. State Department spokesman gave the Bush administration's view on Japan-Iran Azadegan oil deal. Boucher told the media, "Our policy has been, with respect to Iran, to oppose petroleum investment there." He added, "We remain deeply concerned about deals such as this, and disappointed that these things might go forward."
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