Sat, 11 Nov 2000

Iran satisfied with its three years at the helm of the OIC

By Jean-Michel Cadiot

TEHRAN (AFP): Iran, about to pass on the mantle as head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), is pleased with the diplomatic, economic and cultural influence it has achieved during its three-year tenure.

For the fiercely conservative Islamic Republic of Iran, which refuses to recognize Israel and opposes dialog with the Jewish state, nothing could be sweeter than to have succeeded this week in scoring another anti-Israeli point.

The OIC is to hold its triennial summit next week in Qatar, which will become the new rotating head of the group. But the meeting came close to not happening after Iranian President Mohammad Khatami hinted very strongly that he would boycott it unless Doha severed its economic ties with Israel.

Saudi Arabia went even further on Wednesday and said it would not attend because Qatar had not agreed to shut down Israel's trade office in Qatar.

But Qatar caved in on Thursday, Saudi Arabia dropped its planned boycott and Iran's Khatami announced he will attend the summit, set for Nov. 12-14.

"If that is confirmed, the closure (of the Israeli trade office in Doha) is a success for Iran," an Iranian government official told AFP.

The Doha summit will have at the top of its agenda the Palestinian intifada, or uprising, that has led to scores of Palestinians being killed and thousands wounded in nearly six weeks of clashes with Israeli security forces and, in some cases, private citizens.

"The fact that the Palestinian intifada is taking center stage at the summit is a victory," the Iranian official said. "That is due largely to the prompting of Iran."

Since the very beginning of the uprising on Sept. 28, following the controversial visit by a hawkish right-wing Israeli politician to a Jerusalem site sacred to Jews and Muslims, Iran has been pushing for all Islamic countries to sever their ties with Israel.

Angered by what it considered a weak response to the Palestinian crisis by a summit of Arab leaders in Cairo last month, non-Arab Iran unsuccessfully called for an emergency meeting of OIC foreign ministers.

It now plans to go into the Doha summit calling for the OIC to provide the Palestinians "political, moral and financial support," the official said.

Looking back over the three years that Iran has held the OIC's rotating presidency, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi recently told the government newspaper Iran that the record has been a positive one.

"Iran has given a new impulse to the OIC" and its role has been "constructive," Kharazi said.

Of particular significance, he said, have been Iranian contributions toward attempting to resolve crises in Kosovo, in the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya and in Afghanistan.

Numerous OIC missions have traveled to these hotspots, many of them led by Kharazi himself.

The minister also pointed to OIC mediation to avert a military conflict between Turkey and Syria in 1998 after Istanbul complained at the support given by Damascus to Kurdish rebels and their leader, Abdullah Ocalan.

But Iran sees its achievements as extending beyond the purely diplomatic. A favorite brainchild of Khatami, the Dialog of Civilizations, has been adopted by the United Nations and will be marked in 2001.

A linchpin of Khatami's foreign policy, its purpose is to push for greater mutual knowledge and dialog among the world's cultures as a substitute for ideological conflict while, at the same time, breaking free from what is perceived as western cultural domination of the world.

Iran has also pushed for widening the scope of the OIC to the economic sphere, with the 1997 Tehran summit calling for the creation of an Islamic common market.

So far that idea has not caught on, but Tehran plans to hold a conference on the subject to push it along further.

In the end, though, Iran may have a different perception of its presidency than fellow members of the 56-country OIC, said a diplomat here from an Asian country that belongs to the organization.

Iran has put its presidency across as being "appreciated, patient and effective," the diplomat said.

"But its positions remain more radical than those of its partners, who for the most part have strong relations with the United States, while Tehran and Washington have not re- established (diplomatic) relations."