The same day the United Nations and Iran sparred over the country’s human rights record, Dr. Abbas Maleki, former deputy foreign minister of Iran, spoke Monday afternoon in Goldwin Smith Hall about its foreign policy and possibilities for future economic development.
Maleki spoke of an embattled Iran caught between United States forces, United Nations sanctions and an uncertain economic climate.
“Iranians feel the world situation of Iran is becoming weaker every day; therefore, they must do something,” Maleki said. “That is the mentality of Iranians.”
Maleki said that with the end of the Cold War and the opening of Iran’s borders, Iran has been gradually abandoning its Middle Eastern culture in favor of an Asian identity, capitalizing on an increased demand in Asia for Iranian oil and natural gas.
Despite emerging economies in China, India and Russia, Maleki said that America is still the world leader in technology, and that therefore, Iran needs to forge a better relationship with the United States.
Maleki suggested Iran could improve its foreign relations by trying to solve its problems with the U.S., increasing production of oil and gas and expanding its relations with Arab countries.
Maleki also pointed out that the economic sanctions enacted by foreign officials most directly affect the people of Iran.
“It’s not the government of Iran which receives more negative impacts, injuries, pains; it’s the people of Iran that receive it,” Maleki said.
Maleki presented a photograph of smiling, Iranian boys, which he said showed the possibilities of Iran’s future in the next generation.
When an audience member questioned why Maleki chose a picture that featured only boys, Maleki countered that women are very active in Iranian society.
However, audience member and Iranian citizen, Alireza Vahid grad said in an interview that the definition of active women in Iran differs greatly from the definition in the United States.
“His definition of women participating in the country is probably different from what you Americans have in mind,” Vahid said. “My society is very conservative. Women can’t participate as much. But I believe the situation is much better than in most other countries in mind,” Vahid said. “My society is very conservative. Women can’t participate as much. But I believe the situation is much better than in most other countries in the Middle East.”
Maleki described Iran’s foreign policy record since the revolution in 1979 as “acceptable.”
“After revolution, there have been many mistakes and much progress,” he said. “Now if you come to Tehran, it is a very very beautiful city, with high-rises, industry. There have been some mistakes also … but after many, many crises Iran has remained without any injuries — after Kuwait, the invasion of Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq, the Soviet collapse — it’s very, very hard to do that.”
Maleki also said that after the Iranian Revolution, negative media attention has impaired Iran’s ability to engage the world in a dialogue about foreign policy issues.
“Iranians don’t have access to do interviews with The New York Times,” he said. “It is true Iran can do that, and I think Iran is ready. Iran needs media coverage, more discussions and more and better proposals. With sanctions, military attacks, these issues vanish.”
He proposed communication as a potential solution to the unfavorable publicity.
“The best way for both sides is to sit and negotiate and talk about issues,” Maleki said. “I am not in Iran’s government, but I think Iran’s government is ready to do something.”
Vahid said that Maleki’s speech lagrely met his expectations, but that he was somewhat surprised that Maleki criticized the Iranian government.
“This guy has been the government. He holds a faculty position in the biggest university in the country. I didn’t expect him to have opinions against the government,” Vahid said. “It wasn’t heavily biased towards supporting the government — he mentioned they’d made mistakes.”
Vahid noted that Maleki had been part of the party of a candidate opposing incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the 2009 election.
“[Maleki] was definitely not supporting the current president [in his speech at Cornell], that’s for sure, but in terms of the whole system as an entity, he’s part of it and doesn’t have any issues with it,” Vahid said.
Maleki’s speech is one lecture in the Einaudi Center’s Foreign Policy Distinguished Speaker Series.
The series hosts speakers who hold “a position of prominence ininternational affairs and can address topical issues from a variety of perspectives,” according to the Einaudi Center website.