Salehi fears dangers ahead for Iran, attempts to lower regional tensions

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Salehi

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Salehi

Speeches by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali-Akbar Salehi this week have confirmed the cautious approach Iran is taking to responding to allegations by the United States that Iran masterminded a plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington. While Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has used harsh rhetoric to deny the US accusations, the Iranian government’s response overall has been measured and relatively moderate, with a consistent denial of any involvement in the plot and an emphasis on diplomacy to resolve the brewing crisis.

During a Sunday morning meeting with a student organization this week, Ahmadinejad gave his first official statement on the allegations, stating that:

“They [the US] attempt to create an atmosphere against Iran every day, and at this stage they accuse Iran of terrorism, but they must be made to understand that terrorism is the work of uncultured people who want to force their authority on the world.”

Emphasizing Iran’s great culture and civilization, he denied that the Iranian government could be involved with terrorism.

In a meeting held yesterday at the Iran Chamber of Commerce with representatives of the private sector, Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Salehi spelled out one of Iran’s major fears about the consequences of an escalation of the current crisis:

“We are presently in the worst of these threats and sanctions, which have existed for years, meaning that in these 32 years [of our existence] we have never been under such political and economic pressure. This is a big challenge, and we must see how we can use this challenge as an opportunity.”

In another speech today  to a gathering of ambassadors and heads of international organizations in Tehran, Salehi talked about Iran’s role as a founding member of the UN, and its role in peace-making in a wide-range of conflicts in the region. He stated that:

“The Islamic Republic of Iran, as a responsible government, and based on the fundamental [principles] of its foreign policy, has always placed international and regional stability at the top of its priorities.”

Portraying Iran as one of the main victims of terrorism and declaring terrorism to be against Islamic principles, Salehi appeared to be trying to send the Saudis a positive signal:

“The declared and enduring strategy of the Islamic Republic of Iran toward its neighbours, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has been based on peace, brotherhood, multifaceted cooperation and the preservation and strengthening of security in the sensitive region of the Middle East and Persian Gulf, and we emphasize the continuity of this strategy.”

Expressing “surprise” at the “baseless” accusations made by the US, Salehi attempted to undermine the US claims by questioning what Iran’s motivation could be and the case made by the Americans:

“In confronting this plot/illusion, the first logical question will be which country will profit from this. The second question is what are the legal documents to back these accusations and why has the accusing country not given us consular access to the accused [Mansour Arbabsiar] despite two official requests from us…instead of pursuing the matter through diplomatic channels, why has this directly become a media matter? Perhaps the true intentions [of the US] can be found in the following declarations of American officials, [which include] the threat of the intensification of sanctions, allusion to the military option, etc.”

Claiming that the US allegations were merely a pretext to reverse its declining fortunes by undermining Iran, Salehi said that there were three main goals to what he called this “evil” plot. These included creating problems in Iran’s relations with its Arab neighbours, strengthening the coalition of Arab countries who seek to impose “illegal sanctions” on Iran, and aiding the US to regain its lost place in the strategic region of the Middle East.

Salehi concluded by warning about the dangers to international peace posed by the American claims and called on countries not to make hasty decisions in regard to the matter.

“From our point of view, the thing the international community must focus on is the threatening and weakening of the international order, peace and security through the declaration of such baseless and unproven accusations…we advise all friendly, peace-loving and independent countries to take a responsible approach to this issue and to refrain from taking hasty positions, preventing the creation of a false crisis in the direction of the weakening of international and regional peace and stability.”

Editor’s note: As pointed out recently, the Iranian political establishment has wholesale rejected US claims about an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington. Ahmadinejad and Salehi’s statements this week only put further emphasis on the fact that the goals of the alleged plot are highly unpopular among the Iranian political elite, with condemnation of it coming from across the political spectrum.

The president and foreign minister’s comments also show Iran’s very active and defensive diplomacy in trying to contain the fallout from this crisis. Furthermore, Salehi’s speech shows that Iran is reaching out to Saudi Arabia in public, and possibly attempting to make arrangements behind-the-scenes through regional intermediaries like Qatar.