Thu, 13 Oct 1994

Jakarta's ties with Tehran

The Indonesia-Iran relationship has never been as good as it is today. And tomorrow it promises to be even better. The ties, which warmed again a few years ago after some trying times, enter a new phase today as Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani arrives here to return President Soeharto's visit to his country last year.

The two countries now have a more solid than ever cooperative bilateral relationship to build on. They have been engaged in active cooperation in international bodies for some time. Both Indonesia and Iran are members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).

The relationship has been a long one, if not always a very close one. During the regime of Shah Pahlevi, Indonesia saw Iran as a good friend in diplomatic activities. In 1962 Indonesia chose a senior Iranian diplomat to head the UN Temporary Administration in West Irian -- now Irian Jaya -- after the Dutch colonial rulers left the island.

But in the following years, especially after the Iranian revolution and during the Iran-Iraq war, the relationship experienced ups and downs.

The war itself, started by the unanticipated Iraqi invasion of Iran in 1980, cost Tehran billions of U.S. dollars. For at least 10 years, Iran, which was busy consolidating after the Islamic revolution in which the shah was driven out of the country, had to allocate a great portion of its national budget for defense. The ensuing economic crisis seems to have dragged on and on. Even today Tehran faces financial difficulties.

So, although the Islamic revolution has allowed Iran to adopt a more independent and active foreign policy, it has at times been more inward than outward looking, what with its concerns at home.

And that very revolution set Iran in a new light internationally, with suspicion emerging on the part of certain countries in the West -- especially those whose hegemonic interests it ended -- as to its nature and purposes.

These western countries and their local allies have not only accused Iran of "exporting revolution" but have also frowned upon those who forged good relationships with Tehran.

But these problems have not discouraged Indonesia and Iran from developing and boosting their cooperation.

Now, Rafsanjani's visit offers a prime opportunity to take further steps on matters discussed during Soeharto's visit to Iran last year. Rafsanjani may well take this chance to convey Iran's wishes to get Indonesian support for further development of its shipyard.

Indonesia, on the other hand, can be expected to make an effort to take advantage of Iran as a gateway for its exports to the landlocked countries of Central Asia.

The two leaders might also discuss ways to boost bilateral trade. Indonesian exports to Iran stood at US$14.72 million last year, a decline of 73.2 percent from the previous year. Indonesian imports from Iran -- which mostly consisted of crude oil -- also sharply declined last year, reaching only $166.71 million compared to $669.32 million in 1993.

Although this year looks a bit better export-wise, with Indonesian exports to Iran increasing by 38 percent compared to the same period of 1993, its imports dropped by 50 percent compared to the same period.

These trends require serious attention because Iran has become increasingly more important to Indonesia, what with the difficult to manage trade regulations some Middle Eastern countries adhere to making it appear as if they are not ready to be our trade partners under a modern economic system.