|US-Iran Shadow Dance at UN Theatre
Entering the UN premises to attend the millennium summit on the
morning of September 6th, some youthful members of the Iranian
delegation were cheerfully competing in discreet voices to complete
a beautiful Persian song. They had good reason. Less than an hour
later, after making an address on behalf of the host country,
The President of the United States William Jefferson Clinton,
sustained by his Secretary of State, was intently listening to
a speech by their chief, Iranian President Sayyed Mohemmed Khatemi.
That was a clearly political approach helped by a slight shift
in speaking arrangements.It was preceded a day earlier by an intellectual
approach. At the debate on “dialogue among cultures” propelled
Sayyed Khatemi, Dr. Albright- this time in a shift of travel schedule-
attended and applauded.
With a five minute limit, the Iranian President’s political speech
was noted not only for what was included but for what it bypassed.
Despite an inevitable dig at the “experiences of a few power holders”:,
he wisely averted any of the controversial issues. The intellectual
dance was much easier. Theological culture is the acknowledged
specialty of the black turbanned Sayyed and political thought
is the passion of the former Professor and US Secretary of State,
whatever her brooch of the day.
Then came the meeting of countries concerned with the situation
in Afghanistan, or what is known as the six plus two group, that
is the neighbors of that tormented country in addition to Russia
and the U.S. Yet despite full media coverage, or possibly because
of it, there was no direct Albright-Kharraggi meeting in tiny
Conference Room Eight. “They seemed comfortable with each other’s
presence”, was the most that a spinner would claim. Actually,
while Albright was informing the press afterwards about the non-meeting
meeting, the experienced Kharraggi, a former head of the Iranian
News Agency, was seen slipping casually behind the crowd. The
two actually have known each other since they served as permanent
representatives of their countries in New York. Yet due to a habit
established by envoys of the Islamic Republic of Iran, about greeting
women, both can credibly state that they never shook hands.
Later towards the end of September, specific helpful measures
were taken by both sides. The Iranian Foreign Minister was granted
a special visa to visit several American universities in key cities,
a suggestion made in vain three years following a diplomatic breakfast
with American TV personality Dan Rather. And in Teheran, earlier
court sentences against some defendants who are of the Jewish
faith were found to be legally inadequate and thus reduced mostly
by half. In a main policy speech in Teheran Sayyed Khatemi highlighted
Iran’s role as a “force for peace” in the region and the world,
adding obviously the inevitable conditions.
Nuances matter in politics, particularly in old cultures. What
you see is not always what you get. But you will know it if you
are generally on the right track. If, for example, political statements
of these days from Teheran or Washington are compared to those
say five years ago, two main lines could be noted: one consistent
on the main principles and another flexible on specific issues.
That would apply to the Middle East and handling of international
relations especially neighboring states like Saudi Arabia and
About a year ago, when Dr.Albright was under attack in Washington
D.C. in for downgraded influence and refreshing performance, she
was asked by a sympathetic reporter about any shining moments
in the sun. She referred to Iran . That response puzzled many.
There was no clear opening in relations at the time, except for
a few careful steps- a TV interview there, a guarded statement
here. Neither are there substantial indications now of a major
breakthrough. The power structure within the system framework
in Iran is too complicated to be interpreted in individualistic
terms. And the forthcoming U.S. elections make it too sensitive
for the President to go out on a limb and take the measures expected
by the Iranian establishment in order to begin a clearly new relationship.
Yet each additional day of such a choreographed friendly approach
is a thousand times better than one day of recrimination. More
fortunately in this case, Madeline Albright decided to artfully
play ballerina then dance the macarena.