Iran seeks to break out of isolation. But Iran finds it hard to make friends while exporting revolution
The Iranian government is striving to improve its image and gain friends in the international arena. Recent history appears to have taught the Iranian government that it is difficult to be alone in the international arena -- a fact which became apparent in 1980, at the start of the war with Iraq, when no country in the international community condemned the Iraqis for invading Iran. This realization has evolved over time, leading to Iran's slow emergence from post-revolutionary isolation and to the current efforts to restore contacts and connections with the rest of the world.
President Ali Khamenei recently pointed out to a group of Iranian ambassadors that Iran must seek new allies. The ambassadors were at a meeting in Tehran to appraise the results of their overseas missions.
But the Islamic Republic's diplomats have apparently been finding it difficult to combine the government's stated goal of exporting the Iranian revolution with the desire to break out of its diplomatic isolation.
All Iran's leaders agree that exporting the revolution must be the cornerstone of their foreign policy, says an Iranian official close to the prime minister. But ``we have different ideas on the ways to achieve that goal,'' he says.
``Some of us believe that it is our duty to help Islamic opposition movements throughout the world and especially in the Middle East,'' the official says. ``Others think that we'd better have good relations with existing governments in order to be in a position to convey peacefully the message of the great Islamic revival that is taking place here.''
``When we say that we want to export our revolution we mean business,'' one Iranian ambassador says. ``But don't misunderstand me -- we don't intend to invade or occupy any foreign country.''
Among signs that Iran is trying to remedy the problem of a lack of friends on the international scene are:
In June this year, Iran condemned the hijacking of TWA 847 by Shiite Muslim gunmen, Western diplomats here say.
President Khamenei recently met with two leaders of the radical Lebanese Shiite Hizbullah (Party of God). According to some of these diplomats, Iran may be pressuring Hizbullah to release more than 10 Western hostages missing in Lebanon since March 1984.
However, a European ambassador says ``. . .there remain groups in [Iran] that provide financial support to terrorist groups operating thoughout the world.''
``You have to realize that we are in a difficult position,'' a student at Tehran University says. ``We have pledged to support Muslims throughout the world. We consider that the guys who hijacked the TWA aircraft in June are part of our Muslim nation. Though we knew that what they were doing was wrong, we couldn't drop them. We have to educate them and convince them that these actions are detrimental to the cause of Islam. But that is going to take time.''
Iran's persistence in exporting its revolution has embittered relations with Arab neighbors, most of whom support Iraq in its five-year-old war with Iran.
Kuwait is the Arab country with which the Islamic Republic's relations are the worst. In recent years, Kuwait has been the target of several terrorist attacks for which Iranian-backed activists have largely been held responsible. The Iranian government denies these charges.
Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran are also showing signs of improvement. Last May, the Saudi minister of foreign affairs paid an official visit to Iran. But Iranian officials insist that complete normalization of relations is prevented by the Saudis support of Iraq.
The superpowers, however, remain the Islamic Republic's archenemies.
The United States is described by Tehran as the source of all evils on earth and the No. 1 terrorist state on the globe.
Relations with the Soviet Union are not much better. In spite of Iran's proclaimed intention to maintain good contacts with its northern neighbor, the two countries are at odds on many issues.
Iran opposes Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and provides financial assistance to some of the Afghan opposition groups. The Soviet Union is also Iraq's main arms supplier.
Being opposed to the superpowers' policies doesn't prevent Iran from seeking good relations with some of the superpowers' closest allies. Iran has excellent contacts with communist North Korea and with pro-American Turkey.
``That's logic,'' a Turkish businessman comments. ``Everything that comes overland to Iran has to cross our territory. Also, we need their oil and they need our cheap products.''
Iranian leaders have also been trying, with some success, to resume normal relations with countries that are called by them second-class powers.
West Germany, Japan, Britain, and Italy have become Iran's top trading partners. Smaller countries like Belgium and the Netherlands are also reinforcing ties with Iran. The push appears to be led mainly by private businesses in these countries which are eager to take advantage of the large gap left by the dissolution of ties with the US, which was Iran's largest trading partner before 1979.
Fresh attempts have been made by the French government to reestablish normal relations with Tehran, but these appear to have been in vain. France supports Iraq and for years Paris has been the headquarters for various Iranian groups opposed to the Islamic Republic.