Tehran's Man in London: Golnar Motevalli Talked to the Iranian Ambassador to the UK, HE Morteza Sarmadi. (Interview)

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Given the impending attack on Iraq, much of the international community is keeping a wary eye on the country's neighbours and the degree of support (or lack of) they might expect should a US attack go ahead. Iran is very much at the forefront of these international concerns. The country's stance has changed from anti-Saddam (during and after the Iran-Iraq War) to pro-Iraqi after the Gulf War, (during which it remained neutral) but Iran has still yet to give categorical assurance to either side about where it will decide to go this time and on what grounds any decision would be made. So far the evidence suggests that President Khatami will align himself against war. But whether this will manifest itself as support for Saddam, support for the Iraqi people or support for the wider Islamic world, is yet to be seen. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi has urged patience and caution on both sides.

Iran is also at its own important crossroads, in terms of achieving a level of social and economic development which does not threaten to upset that notoriously sensitive balance between reformist policy and Islamist ideology. Much of Iran's general foreign policy, however, is geared towards economic development; the encouragement of Foreign Direct Investment and nurturing stable relations with the West, in particular Britain and the US.

As a woman journalist the questions that dominate one's mind before meeting the Islamic Republic's ambassador to Britain, Morteza Sarmadi are `Should I be wearing a veil? Should I shake his hand?', rather than `How is Iran mitigating the widening gap between rich and poor?' I had assumed formality during such a meeting would be non-negotiable. However, my concerns were unfounded, Mr Sarmadi took trouble to put me at ease, was generous with his responses, eager to reveal the nature of Iran's reformist foreign policy and the possible implications of its increasingly liberal economic regime. His approach reflected Iran's stated desire to join the ranks of the developed, free world.

TME: What effect did 11 September have on Iran's relationship with the wider international community?

M.S: I think that the events of 11 September clarified for us the dangers and threats which are imminent to our national security and the security of the wider global community. Iran was among the first nations to condemn terrorism and specifically what happened on 11 September. The difficulty with that type of terrorism is that it is not aligned to any specific state and therefore it causes problems. But from the point of negotiating with terrorism, I do think it is important to remain diplomatic in such circumstances. It is a mistake to assume that a western solution will the solve the problem of terrorism. War is not the answer, it requires an international forum. We must not alienate the opposition, but we cannot accommodate their demands.

TME: Some 70% of Iran's population are under 30. What sort of hopes do you hold for these future generations?

M.S: The revolution still has a powerful mobilising effect on the young. They are the defending principles of the revolution. Their energy, anxiety, fears, joys and hopes are what fuel the legacy of the revolution and I hope that they will honour that legacy and pull Iran towards greater development.

TME: What are your views on Iran being labelled by George Bush as constituting part of an "Axis of Evil"?

M.S: What was said in that speech was an outright denial of our efforts ... it represented a breach of good faith and helped to aggravate the increasing climate of distrust which exists between Iran and the West. Iran jealously guards its independence and has no record of provocative behaviour towards other states.

TME: What is Iran's current defence policy?

M. …