Share this article

print logo

DISASTER PRESENTS POLITICAL OPPORTUNITY TO FIND A PATH OUT OF ISOLATION

The earthquake that devastated northwest Iran last week also demolished entrenched political taboos, handing President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani a golden opportunity to end a decade of international isolation.

Political analysts said massive foreign aid pouring into the country, a pariah on the world scene since the Islamic revolution in 1979, strengthened Rafsanjani in his quest to open Iran's diplomatic door to longtime enemies.

The white-turbaned cleric has taken personal charge of relief operations following Thursday's quake that killed an estimated 70,000 people and made half a million homeless.

Friends and foes have been arriving in Iran at a hectic pace, bringing in vital supplies for the victims -- much to the disgust of the president's radical opponents.

These rivals, who had painted the West as evil and hostile to Iran, initially cried foul, but the scale of the disaster soon left them numbed.

"The disaster has brought the Iranian and Western people emotionally closer and created a good deal of good will. All this augurs well for Rafsanjani," said Baqer Moin, a London-based writer specializing in Iranian affairs.

"The West however should not press Rafsanjani for immediate diplomatic rewards. He will undoubtedly try to repay the West in due course, carrying with him the good will of the Iranian people," he said.

Gratitude could come in the form of help for the release of Western hostages held by pro-Iranian groups in Lebanon.

The swift and generous Western aid -- far exceeding that offered by the Muslim world -- has also changed the stereotype image of the United States and its allies among ordinary Iranians as uncaring and exploiters of the poor.

"You cannot get people to go into the street and shout death to America when they are being kept warm by blankets donated by America," an Iranian journalist said.

The United States, better known as the Great Satan in Iran, was one of the first to offer help and Tehran swiftly accepted -- a move that would have been political suicide before the earthquake.

The U.S. government and American private agencies have sent more than 40 tons of supplies and hundreds of thousands of dollars to help the victims.

Iran has even welcomed an offer of aid from its war foe Iraq and two planeloads of supplies arrived from Egypt, which backed Baghdad in the war and gave asylum to the deposed Shah.

A Western diplomat said: "There are signs the more pragmatic people have come out on top. They're progressing slowly but with lots of problems. The earthquake, if one looks at it from that point of view, will have a beneficial effect. I hope the West doesn't ram home the message too hard."

Rafsanjani's opponents have voiced alarm but dare not create major obstacles.

The radical Jomhuri Eslami newspaper said some governments "whose hands are stained with the blood of the Iranian people, directly or indirectly, have expressed their condolences and offered relief supplies."

"The criminal U.S. government is on top of all. In a deceitful message it has asked Iran to list its requirements to be dispatched immediately," it said.

Despite such criticism, Rafsanjani's government has gone out of its way to appeal for foreign donations and made it clear over the past week it would welcome aid from all countries except South Africa and Israel.

But this did not stop South African Muslims from sending in money, nor did it prevent Iranians from tuning into the Farsi service of Radio Israel to hear the latest quake news.

There are no comments - be the first to comment