Q: Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Iranian President Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seem to have become close friends over the years. What factors do you think might have contributed to this friendship?
I think both presidents are simple people and work hard to improve the lives of their people. They are pragmatic, rational and independent personalities. They are both extremely popular and charismatic leaders who are both respected and loved for safeguarding the sovereignty, pride and dignity of their nations in the face of external challenges and pressures. The simple jacket of Iranian President Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the red shawl of the Sri Lankan President Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa are symbolic of their love for the masses. Both leaders are also staunch supporters of the rights of the Palestinian people. These are the common traits which have united them in a strong bond of friendship. Q: How has the close relationship between the heads of state of Iran and Sri Lanka, in your view, benefitted both countries?
The relations between Iran and Sri Lanka are very cordial and warm; there is a great deal of mutual respect without any kind of dominance, exploitation or arrogance. We are ready to help each other in times of need. This has resulted in a variety of programmes of bilateral cooperation in trade and cultural relations which have benefitted both countries. The US$ 450 million Uma Oya hydropower and irrigation project and the US$ 106 million rural electrification project to provide electricity to 1,000 remote villages in Sri Lanka, both funded by the Islamic Republic of Iran are just two projects that are being implemented. Both projects will bring huge benefits to the rural poor of Sri Lanka.
This also shows that the two people-friendly leaders have been working to uplift the man on the village street. Furthermore from January 2008, Sri Lanka became the only country to receive crude oil from Iran on a four month interest free credit facility and which continues to this day. This special facility came during the height of the war here, following the visit of President Rajapaksa to Iran. I must say that this package alone is equivalent to giving Sri Lanka a minimum of US$ 600 million as an interest free loan. We are ready to do more, like the US$ 1.5 billion refinery project which unfortunately is delayed due to financial constraints on the Sri Lankan side. We will try to solve this together. Q: There is a certain degree of discomfort, among Western countries in particular, over Sri Lanka’s strong ties with Iran. Critics point to Iran’s human rights record and frequently describe Iran as a ‘rogue’, authoritarian state. What is your response?
The West is trying to implement a carrot and stick policy and had tried to isolate us from the rest of the world by using all sorts of tactics to tarnish our international image. They don’t want us to be friends with anyone. They will continue to pressure Iran and monitor us as they did with the American spy plane which violated Iranian airspace.
They closely watch our relations with others. They have thrown all kinds of accusations in order to create a situation where the effect of sanctions will be greatly felt. In the Islamic and Buddhist cultures, stress is placed on helping friends in their time of need and Iran and Sri Lanka have helped each other in times of need. This is what makes our friendship genuine.
When Palestinians are attacked and killed in their hundreds by Israel with the support of the United States, no one wants to talk about that. Why is only Iran being targeted? It is because they do not want us to be independent. They are apprehensive of Iran becoming a global power – hence the double standards. The people of Bahrain are being killed by the forces of the dictatorial regime supported by Western powers who want the King to remain in power. They speak of democracy but in reality they want the entire Arab world to be controlled by dictators who will be subservient to them. Q: What are your main priorities as the new Ambassador to Sri Lanka? How do you hope to take off from where your predecessor left?
I must first say that I am very happy to be here as the Ambassador in this beautiful country. Sri Lanka is an important country and so this is an important assignment for me personally. I will try my best to use the existing close and friendly ties of the two countries for the benefit of Sri Lankans and Iranians. My intention is to continue the good work of my predecessor and further improve our bilateral relations. There are a number of projects which have to be completed such as the rural electrification project. I am particularly keen to establish direct shipping lines and direct flights to and from Iran. I want to enhance cooperation in the areas of fisheries, agriculture, banking, health, higher education, science and technology and mass media. Q: Economic sanctions on Iran have had an adverse impact on Sri Lankan tea exports to Iran and tea exporters are facing difficulties as Iran is one of Sri Lanka’s top tea buyers. Do you have any solution to this problem?
Tea export continues but there is some docility regarding the payment which comes from the UN and West-imposed sanctions against Iran. We are trying to solve it together with our Sri Lankan friends and also to solve other regulation related matters concerning the export of tea. Q: Do you have any plans to increase the number of Iranian tourists visiting Sri Lanka?
We are planning to increase information on Sri Lanka in Iran so people going to Europe or to other destinations are encouraged to visit Sri Lanka. It will be good for Iranians to know more about the attractions and facilities available in Sri Lanka. Having direct flights will be crucial to improve the numbers. Also, cooperation between students, universities and people-to-people relations will encourage Iranian tourists to come and visit your beautiful country and further strengthen our ties. Q: Does Iran still accept the Vienna Convention norms according to which diplomats should have protection while in foreign soil in their embassies?
The government of Iran is responsible for the protection of all foreign missions in Iran. We respect the Vienna Convention and we did our best to ensure that the protest did not turn ugly. But we cannot shoot at students for protesting – the right to protest is a universally accepted human right.
In 1980 two Iranian diplomats were killed during the siege of the Iranian Embassy in London. The UK Police was utterly negligent and the British government completely failed to uphold the norms of the Vienna Convention. To date, Iran has not been compensated in any way and yet they demand damages from us over what happened in Tehran! It is the UK which has failed to honour its international obligations, not Iran. Q: Why is Iran being criticised for its human rights track record and accused of developing nuclear weapons?
To answer this question we should go back to recent Iranian history. When Iran was a kingdom, the king was until 1979 installed by the West and the kingdom of Iran was a Western ally. Our resources were then exploited for the benefit of the king and his Western allies and not for benefit of the Iranian people. The people were not satisfied with the dictatorship and protested – like in Egypt today. Under the leadership of Imam Khomeini, the people got rid of the kingdom and with the success of the revolution, the West lost an ally. The West was not happy with the revolution as the revolution opposed foreign interference. The people wanted to be independent and chose to have an independent country.
The hostility comes from their mentality against real Islam and the second Islamic revolution. They tried to cut the voice of revolution but it didn’t work. They created eight years of war with Saddam Hussein of Iraq but to no avail. All the Western countries, helped Saddam to get rid of Iranian revolution but it didn’t work. Saddam was defeated and sent back to the border and the war finished. So they changed their method of hostility and started to adopt a carrot and stick policy.
These accusations of human rights’ violations and developing nuclear weapons are all politically motivated and targeted at making Iran subservient to the West. In the case of atomic energy they don’t want anybody to have nuclear energy as it would become their rival.
They are not in favour of an Islamic republic and therefore they try to create a lot of baseless stories - one of them is human rights violations and the other accusation is that we are making atomic bombs. We tell them Israel has atomic bombs but they don’t want to utter a word about Israel so this is where the double standards come in. They concoct accusations against our peaceful atomic programme to the Security Council which is dominated by the West and have imposed sanctions against Iran Q: What do you think the future holds for Iran and the world and what changes would you like to see?
We visualise a world that is secure, calm and free from arrogance and dominance of one country over the other. If the defence budgets of the world’s powers can be decreased by 10% and diverted to poverty eradication in developing countries, this world will be a much better place for everyone. But war is big business and you need to create enemies, often on false allegations!
Moreover, the current global economic crisis is the result of unbridled capitalism and there is a need for a new paradigm or model of economic development. The Western model is not working and developing countries in particular should devise their own models according to the characteristics of their economic system that would facilitate rapid and equitable development with minimum damage.
Q: A number of Western states have expressed strong displeasure over Iran’s alleged involvement in other countries – particularly in fomenting revolutions in several Muslim majority states. What is your response?
The entire Persian Gulf from Bahrain to Yemen and Egypt are under Islamic revolutions. These allegations are in line with their hostility against Iran. If the people don’t want a dictator or a king and demand democracy, that is up to them. We are not responsible for what is happening in those countries, though we would be happy to see the will of the people succeed. The deployment of foreign troops in Bahrain, against the will of peaceful protestors was backed by the West. It is therefore abundantly clear that it is the West and not Iran that meddles in the affairs of other countries. Q: What is your assessment of the role played by the United Nations Organisation and the current state of international governance?
The Security Council of the United Nations which exercises undemocratic powers should be restructured considering the rights of all countries. People throughout the world have become the victims of arrogant powers. The election of the Secretary General and other key positions in the
UN should be free of the dominance of any country and the manipulations of powerful countries. There is recent evidence that the IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano had compromised his office to the United States even before he assumed office as the new DG in December 2009. A committee of intellectuals from all the countries should be mandated to examine the present situation of UN and to devise a new structure for UN on the basis of a more equitable sharing of world governance with a greater role for developing countries which have left behind for so many years.
Lasantha Pethiyagoda Thursday, 05 January 2012 05:56 PM
The West ousted the democratically elected Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 and installed their puppet Mohamed Reza Pahlavi Shah'n Shah exploiting resources. However, Iranian revolution of 1979 overthrew the Shah and Ayatollah Ruhollah Komenei leader. Iran modern technologies,give women the greatest freedoms to become scientists, doctors etc. The West, saddened by their failure, instigated Saddam Hussein of Iraq to attack Iran, and that war lasted nearly ten years (1980-89). The west then got rid of Saddam as he was no longer useful to them and now use a canard that Iran is developing nuclear technology, which it has every right to do as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (which Israel is not and has secretly amassed several hundred nuclear war heads and threatens its Arab and Iranian neighbours.)Iran has helped many countries in development programs, has strengthened its ties with the Shia majority of Iraq (Saddam was a minority Sunni).
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