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September 11 one year on Thursday, 5 September, 2002, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
Iranian mistrust remains
Iranians lighting candles for the victims of the attacks on the US, September 2001
Iran condemned the 11 September attacks

The first anniversary of the suicide attacks in the US is remembered in a world which has witnessed dramatic changes over the past year.

Nowhere are the changes more striking than in Afghanistan and its neighbouring countries, including Iran.

The international coalition to fight terrorism, the US-led military action in Afghanistan, and the emphasis placed by the US and its allies on the continuation of the war against international terrorism, have altered the make-up of international politics.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has been among the countries which, for different reasons, have experienced profound impacts in their foreign and domestic political attitudes.

It is not only the 900-km long border with Afghanistan which has inevitably brought intricate outcomes of the change in the strategic political outlook of the American administration to bear on Iran.


President Mohammad Khatami lost no time in offering his condolences to the 'American people'

Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iranian leaders have continued to refer to the US as "the Arch Demon" and "the Great Enemy", insisting on "Death to America" as the pivotal slogan of the revolutionary regime.

In return, the US has persisted in its allegations that the Islamic government supports terrorism, hampers the Middle East peace process, tries to acquire weapons of mass destruction and abuses human rights.

It is against this background of mutual recrimination that Iran and the US have failed to overcome the "high walls of mistrust", as Iranian officials describe the political stand-off between the two countries. This is despite their common attitude toward the Taleban and the future of Afghanistan.

Iranian authorities condemned the 11 September attacks and President Mohammad Khatami lost no time in offering his condolences to the "American people".

However, as soon the US Government revealed its determination to fight terrorism and attack the forces of al-Qaeda and the Taleban, Tehran spoke of its opposition to the US going the way alone. It insisted it would support the global anti-terrorism coalition only with the United Nations, and not the US, at its head.

Nonetheless, Iran did co-operate with America during the war in Afghanistan to overthrow the Taleban regime.

'Axis of evil'

At the same time, the authorities in Iran, as in many other Muslim countries, objected to the rising anti-Islamic tide in the West. They emphasised that events such as the suicide attacks in New York and Washington should not be used as a pretext for some to identify terrorism with Islam.


US officials have repeatedly accused Tehran of allowing the Taleban and al-Qaeda fugitives to cross the Afghan border

Meanwhile, it was President George Bush's address to the US Congress that clearly showed the extent of the repercussions of 11 September for Iran.

In that landmark speech, Mr Bush declared that in the international fight against terrorism, countries were either with the US or against the US. He went on to point to Iran, alongside Iraq and North Korea, as members of an "axis of evil".

Following a brief respite in the long course of mutual abuse, the speech rekindled the hostility between Iran and the US to the extent that a US military attack against Iran no longer seemed an improbable conjecture.

Since then, US officials have repeatedly accused Tehran of allowing the Taleban and al-Qaeda fugitives to cross the Afghan border and seek sanctuary inside Iran.

Americans have also spoken of the intervention by a section of the Iranian regime in parts of Afghanistan in order to destabilise and hamper the efforts of the transitional administration there.

Foreign policy approach

Tehran has vigorously denied these allegations, recalling the support it gave to the anti-Taleban Northern Alliance, the Bonn Conference and the post-Taleban Afghan government.

It has also reminded the world of its recent decision to repatriate al-Qaeda suspects who are found in Iran to their countries of origin.

But it is not just the goings-on along the eastern borders of Iran, and the US presence in the neighbouring countries, that moulds Tehran's foreign policy approach.

Washington's recent talks of an imminent attack against Iraq have intensified the Iranian Government's ever-present fear of being encircled by the US.

Even though Iran's expanded relations with the European Union as well as its more immediate neighbours have somehow prevented an even greater tension brewing between Tehran and Washington, the mere possibility of "an American attack against Iran" seems to have cast a shadow over the course of political debate and the process of decision making in the Islamic Republic.

In this light, the arguments for and against the restoration of formal relations with the US have emerged as decisive factors in the bickering between the "conservative" and the "reformist" factions within Iran.

The conservative elements, giving exceptional prominence to the possibility of US military action against Iran and charging sections of the reformist faction with playing along with America's game, have sought to rein in the ongoing political debates and upstage their political rivals.

Reforms

Their reformist opponents reject these allegations.

Taking their cue from the success of Mr Khatami's policy of detente, they speak of the need for an open dialogue, but not necessarily the restoration of full diplomatic relations, with the US. The reformists believe their conservative adversaries intend to use the US "menace" to fold up reforms.

But this is not all that some analysts read into the conservatives' stance.

According to them, the conservative faction is after grabbing the initiative and taking charge of any attempt at normalisation of Iran-US relations.

At the same time, playing the domestic political game does not seem to offer the needed response to the US position.

The 11 September attacks have had considerable results for Iran, some aspects of which may need time to unfold.

Iran's geo-political situation and the US hard-line attitude to the country will finally persuade the leaders of the Islamic Republic that in the post-11 September world, they may be obliged to reconsider their attitude to, and relations with Washington.


New York despatches

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