Iran’s Diplomacy Is Passive

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Interview with Massoud Edrisi
Iran’s Former Ambassador to Lebanon

Massoud Edrisi, who has served as Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon, maintains that recent positions taken on Iran by the Lebanese former Prime Minister Saad Hariri are rooted in the current developments of the Middle East and tension in Tehran’s relations with Riyadh. Criticizing Iran’s passive approach to regional developments, he believes that Iran should adopt a more active diplomatic approach.

The remarks made by the former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who incriminated Iran of meddling in the internal affairs of Arab states, have had wide repercussions. He said, “We in Lebanon do not accept to be an Iranian protectorate, just as we don’t accept for our brothers in Bahrain, Kuwait or any other country to be an Iranian protectorate.” His remarks elicited sharp reactions from Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah.

Q: A few months ago when President Ahmadinejad visited Lebanon and his visit was reciprocated by the then Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the latter’s stances on Iran seemed very friendly. However, his last week’s remarks took a totally different tone. What, in your opinion, is the main reason behind that change?

A: I think collapse of his coalition government was a major incentive behind his recent remarks about Iran and Hezbollah. He blames Hezbollah for the failure of the government and believes that Hezbollah is a close ally of Iran. Therefore, it is quite natural for him to direct his criticism at Iran and Hezbollah. This is one reason for the change of his tone.

On the other hand, Hariri’s affiliation with the Saudi Arabia should not be ignored. At present, Saudi Arabia’s approach to Iran, both in relation to Bahrain and other regional countries, is not quite friendly. Therefore, due to his affiliation with the Saudi Arabia, it is natural for Mr. Hariri to follow suit with their positions. I think these are the most important reasons prompting his latest remarks on Iran and Hezbollah.

Q: Have democracy-seeking movements in the Arab countries and downfall of a number of dictatorial regimes been also effective?

A: It should be noted that the situation in Lebanon is quite different from other Arab states. There is democracy in Lebanon. That is, neither Hariri, nor other Lebanese statesmen are similar to regional rulers. The Lebanese government is formed on the basis of a parliamentary and democratic system. Therefore, current changes in the Arab world and popular uprisings against some Arab rulers cannot spill over into Lebanon as well.

The developments, however, have had their effect on Hariri’s allies. Political changes can greatly influence the situation in Saudi Arabia, which is a close ally of Mr. Hariri and this has greatly concerned him. This is also true about developments in Egypt.

Hosni Mubarak was a supporter of Hariri’s positions and the change in Egypt has cost Hariri one of his loyal allies.

This issue can also knock Mr. Hariri off balance. However, given the democratic system in Lebanon, there is no concern about breakout of similar protests in that country.

Q: Given Saudi Arabia’s recent approach to Iran, can one claim that a cold war situation reigns over Iran’s relations with Saudi Arabia?

A: Yes. Iran’s relations with Saudi Arabia are apparently at their worst after victory of the Islamic Revolution and the situation can be likened to cold war. In my opinion, even during Iran’s war with Iraq, Saudi officials never took such unfriendly stances on Iran.

Both Iran and Saudi Arabia are to blame for the existing situation. They have leveled all kinds of criticism against each other and this has led to an unfavorable situation.

Q: Small states like Oman, Qatar, and Kuwait, which were more cordial to Iran in the past are now closer to Saudi Arabia. Do you believe that this is a result of Iran’s lame diplomacy or a result of other circumstances?

A: I think both factors are in work here. We could have exercised more active diplomacy to prevent countries like Oman and Qatar, whose relations with Iran have been regularly friendly, to turn toward Saudi Arabia.

Apart from diplomatic weaknesses, Arab countries are interdependent and this has left its mark on their recent positions. The main issue, however, is that we should have adopted a more active diplomatic approach to build confidence with such small countries and prevent Saudi Arabia or other states to take them away from us.

Q: What do you exactly mean by more active diplomacy? What should be done which is being ignored now?

A: There are various diplomatic means of reducing tension and building confidence with other countries. Mutual meetings and dialogue is one of those means. We should have sent direct or indirect messages to prevent deterioration of friendly relations. Unfortunately, we are doing nothing to prevent escalation of hostilities and this is our most important weakness.

Source: Iranian Diplomacy
Translated By: Iran Review

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