Text of Albright's Iran Address
A transcript of Madeleine Albright's address Friday to the American-Iranian Council, as provided by Federal Document Clearing House:
Today's conference reflects a coming together of a real pantheon of organizations, not just the American-Iranian Council, but also the Asia Society, the Middle East Institute and the Georgetown School of Foreign Service. The wealth of expertise in this room is enormous and it is testimony to Iran's importance.
As this audience well knows, Iran is one of the world's oldest continuing civilizations. It has one of the globe's richest and most diverse cultures. Its territory covers half the coastline of the on one side of the Straits of Hormuz through which much of the world's petroleum commerce moves. It borders the Caspian Sea, the Caucasus and Central and South Asia, where a great deal of the world's illegal narcotics are produced, several major terrorist groups are based and huge reserves of oil and gas are just beginning to be tapped. And it is currently chairing the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
There is no question that Iran's future direction will play a pivotal role in the economic and security affairs of what much of the world reasonably considers the center of the world. And so I welcome this opportunity to come to discuss relations between the United States and Iran.
It is appropriate, I hope, to do so in anticipation both of the Iranian new year and the start of spring. And I want to begin by wishing all Iranian-Americans a happy new year.
Eid ashu mamubada.
I extend the same wishes to the Iranian people overseas.
Spring is the season of hope and renewal, of planting the seeds for new crops, and my hope is that both in Iran and the United States we can plant the seeds now for a new and better relationship in years to come.
And that is precisely the prospect that I would like to discuss with you today. President Clinton, especially, asked me to come to this group to have this discussion with you.
It is no secret that for two decades most Americans have viewed Iran primarily through the prism of the U.S. Embassy takeover in 1979, accompanied, as it was, by the taking of hostages, hateful rhetoric and the burning of the U.S. flag. Through the years, this grim view was reinforced by the Iranian government's repression at home and its support for terrorism aboard, by its assistance to groups violently opposed to the Middle East peace process and by its effort to develop a nuclear weapons capability.
America's response has been a policy of isolation and containment. We took Iranian leaders at their word that they viewed America as an enemy, and in response we had to treat Iran as a threat.
However, after the election of President Khatami in 1997, we began to adjust the lens through which we viewed Iran. Although Iran's objectionable external policies remained fairly constant, the political and social dynamics inside Iran were quite clearly beginning to change.
In response, President Clinton and I welcomed the new Iranian president's call for a dialogue between our peoples. We encouraged academic, cultural and athletic contacts. We updated our advisory to Americans wishing to travel to Iran. We reiterated our willingness to engage in officially authorized discussions with Iran regarding each other's principal concerns and said we would monitor future developments in that country closely, which is what we have done.
Now we have concluded the time is right to broaden our perspective even further, because the trends that were becoming evident inside Iran are plainly gathering steam. The country's young are spearheading a movement aimed at a more open society and a more flexible approach to the world. Iran's women have made themselves among the most politically active and empowered in the region. Budding entrepreneurs are eager to establish winning connections overseas.
Respected clerics speak increasingly about the compatibility of reverence and freedom, modernity and Islam.
An increasingly competent press is emerging despite attempts to muscle it. And Iran has experienced not one, but three, increasingly democratic rounds of elections in as many years. Not surprisingly, these developments have been stubbornly opposed in some quarters and the process they have set in motion is far from complete. Harsh punishments are still meted for various kinds of dissent. Religious prosecution continues against the Baha'i and also against some Iranians who have converted to Christianity.
And governments around the world, including our own, have expressed concern about the need to ensure the process for 13 Iranian Jews who were detained for more then a year without official charge and are now scheduled for trial next month. We look to the procedures and the results of this trial as one of the barometers of U.S.-Iran relations.
Moreover, in the fall of 1998, several prominent writers and publishers were murdered, apparently, by rogue elements in Iran's security forces. And just the past weekend a prominent editor and adviser to President Khatami was gravely wounded in an assassination attempt.
As in any diverse society, there are many currents whirling about in Iran. Some are driving the country forward, others are holding it back. Despite the trend toward democracy, control over the military, judiciary, courts and police remains in unelected hands and the elements of its foreign policy about which we are most concerned have not improved.
But the momentum in the direction of internal reform, freedom and openness is growing stronger. More and more Iranians are unafraid to agree with President's Khatami's assessment of 15 months ago, and I quote, "Freedom and diversity of thought do not threaten the society's security," he said. "Rather, limiting freedom does so. Criticizing the government and state organizations at any level is not detrimental to the system; on the contrary, it is necessary," unquote.
The democratic winds in Iran are so refreshing, and many of the ideas espoused by its leaders so encouraging, there is a risk we will assume too much. In truth, it is too early to know precisely where the democratic trends will lead.
Certainly, the primary impetus for change is not ideology, but pragmatism. Iranians want a better life - they want broader social freedom, greater government accountability and wider prosperity. Despite reviving oil prices, Iran's economy remains hobbled by inefficiency, corruption and excessive state control. Due in part to demographic factors, unemployment is higher and per capita income lower than 20 years ago.
The bottom line is that Iran is evolving on its own terms and will continue to do so. Iranian democracy, if it blossoms further, is sure to have its own distinctive features consistent with the country's traditions and culture. And like any dramatic political and social evolution, it will go forward at its own speed on a timetable Iranians set for themselves.
©Copyright 2000, The Associated Press