Iran behind the headlines

Credit to Author: JAIME J. YAMBAO| Date: Fri, 17 May 2019 18:08:36 +0000


OBSERVING that while the global media are focused on Iran these days, much of the news does not necessarily allow one a good and true understanding of a country with which the Philippines has had friendly relations continuously for so long, the Philippine Ambassadors Foundation Inc. (PAFI) recently chose to invite the Ambassador of Iran for the second installment of its Middle East Forum for Peace and Development. Ambassador Mahommad Tanhaei did not disappoint his audience, which included PAFI members who had served as Philippine ambassadors in Teheran, as he gave a serious, credible perspective on his country

Western politicians and media have simplistically categorized the leaders, people and government of Iran as “hardline” or not. But as Ambassador Tanhaei points out, Iran is a complex and complicated country composed of various ethnic and linguistic communities brought together by geography and history and transforming themselves today into a new nation, a new Iran.

Iran is an ancient nation that since the dawn of history has been a major power and player in the Middle East and the world, even commanding some of the largest empires the world has ever known. For all the country’s long history, the Iranian Revolution of 1979 may be considered the most important landmark because it brought democracy to Iran for the first time. Iran had always been under authoritarian rule of one sort or another. (There are accounts of the US Foreign Service and intelligence apparatus failing to recognize the brewing dissatisfaction of the Iranian people with the brutal regime of the Sha of Iran. In any event, the US found itself on the wrong side of history when the Revolution came. The US leadership had no idea of the sensitivities of the revolutionaries: President Carter’s decision to allow the Shah of Iran to come to the US for medical treatment resulted in the suspicion among the Iranians that the US and the Shah were conspiring to stage a counter-coup, triggering the hostage crisis that caused Carter’s losing his reelection bid and driving a  wedge in the relations between the US and Iran that till now has proved insoluble.)

The Revolution of 1979

The Iranian revolution, according to Ambassador Tanhaei, is not just an event but a continuing process of transformation. It has left its people, leaders and government a challenging burden of searching and shaping a suitable democratic system. (While Trump and his cabal of sycophants call Iran a military and theocratic dictatorship, Iran has been electing its president in contested elections since the 1979 Revolution.)

The Revolution has put Iranians on the path to modernization. In modernizing the country, in contrast to many other countries in the Middle East that are relying on foreign consultants, Iran depends on the talents and skills of its own people. (The situation befits Iranians’ glorious past as principal contributors to the Golden Age of Islam marked by the ascendancy of Muslim scientists, mathematicians, and engineers in world civilization. It may also partially account for the Iran phobia phenomenon — the suspicion and fear among Western and Middle East politicians that Iran on its own is capable of making nuclear weapons. Iran has not only been blessed by substantial reserves of oil and natural gas but also by the high quality of its people. To give credit to whoever it’s due, the establishment of a modern educational system and state encouragement of modern technology, including nuclear technology, started decades before the Revolution, when the Pahlavi dynasty was in power.)

Iran’s place and relations in the complex and complicated Middle East must perforce be conditioned by its internal situation as a democratizing and modernizing country. In addition, Iran cannot be indifferent to developments in its neighbors. It cannot be aloof to their situation because already Iran has among the largest refugee communities in the world.

Unfortunately, the resources of the Middle East attract interventionism of the big powers. These outside powers have pursued their own scenarios and strategies. Instead of finding solutions, they exacerbate conflicts with their polarizing tactics and sale of weapons. It has been estimated that the US in the past decade has spent $4.5 trillion. And it can only be expected to want to recoup at least the same amount by all means.

Longstanding friendship PH

In 2014, the Philippines and Iran celebrated the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. The friendship and cooperation between the two countries are of long standing and remain undiminished through the Iranian Revolution. As confirmed by former Ambassador to Iran Oscar Valenzuela, in his response to Tanhaei’s remarks, Filipinos are greeted and received in Iran with open arms.

Many countries have jumped on the Interfaith Dialogue wagon and every year in February the United Nations observes a World Interfaith Harmony Week. As cited by Ambassador Rosalinda Tirona, current president of PAFI, in her opening remarks, it was the partnership of the Philippines and Iran that spearheaded the dialogue that has more than ever proven its relevance.

Philippine products are quite popular in Iran. The country has become one of the largest markets for Philippine bananas and pineapples. The following are products that can be competitively supplied by Philippine exporters:

1. Food products: fresh fruits, processed food and marine products

2. Electrical equipment, including semi-conductor devices, integrated wire cable, integrated cricuits, electric transformer, electrical apparatus for the telephony

3. Machinery/equipment: air vacuum pumps, automatic data processing, computer parts/accessories and parts

4. Auto parts and accessories

5. Furniture/furnishings health and wellness products.

Listening to Ambassador Tanhaei of course can only strengthen one’s reservations about the Trump administration’s policy  towards Iran. At his very inaugural, Trump unabashedly announced his ambition to seek reelection, justifying the move of countries like the Philippines to limit the term of the president to one without reelection. Trump has made his domestic and foreign policies hostage to his desire to cling to his narrow political base, which includes among a few others, the Evangelical Christians-Zionists coalition.

The Philippines does not at present import oil from Iran. This looks like a consequence of Trump’s reimposition of sanctions against the importation by countries of oil from that country because the Philippines did import substantial quantities of oil from Iran when the Obama administration lifted the sanctions. The Duterte administration has been quiet about observing those sanctions.  Why? The Philippine Constitution decrees an independent foreign policy. There is nothing in the Mutual Defense Treaty about obeying trade sanctions called by one party.  And other countries big and small have deplored the withdrawal of the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the international nuclear deal with Iran, over the opposition of the other parties because the deal was working and Iran had been certified to be fully compliant with it, and the US unilateral reimposition of sanctions. One probably will understand the effect of the sanctions, however illegal, on a Filipino government official or businessman when among the penalties for violation of the sanctions could probably be a denial of a US visa.

The aim of President Trump in reimposing sanctions is to make the Iranian people suffer the collapse of their country’s economy so they would bring about regime change. Has such a threat of hunger and deprivation deterred India, Pakistan and North Korea from pursing their nuclear program if the stake of the people is seen by them as their country’s very security? Are there even faint signs of an Iran Spring when that Spring already happened in 1979?

Given the circumstances of the reimpostion of sanctions, its observance by many important oil-buying countries is doubtful.  Neighbors would find the sanctions a needless inconvenience, and if the Iranian economy is destroyed, would be afraid of the hordes of refugees crossing over to them. A meeting in Poland called by the US to isolate Iran reportedly ended in the isolation of the United States instead because many invited countries downgraded the level of their representation or skipped the meeting altogether. Among the no-shows was the Philippines, perhaps a better indication of where the heart of the Filipinos lies on the subject of Iran.

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