[VIEWPOINT]A startling development in IranThe runoff of Iran’s ninth presidential election on June 24 resulted in a landslide victory for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This means a big change in Iran’s political geography; the reformists have collapsed after eight years in power, and the anti-Western hard-liners have gained power again. When the preliminary ballots were cast about two weeks ago, many experts predicted an easy victory for the reformists.
The conservatives’ victory was expected by no one, and naturally, the shockwave has hit the Western world hard. Immediately after the result was announced, the White House press secretary called the election corrupt.
Moreover, he said, “We [the United States] continue to stand with the Iranian people who seek greater freedom,” suggesting strong opposition to the emergence of the conservatives.
Washington was open about its dissatisfaction with Mr. Ahmadinejad’s victory because of the decades-long U.S. entanglement with Iran’s conservatives. Until the mid-1970s, Iran was one of the most reliable U.S. allies, playing the role of its policeman in the Middle East.
But the Islamic revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini turned the situation upside down and ousted the American presence from Iran. In the midst of the revolution, 53 U.S. citizens were taken hostage at the U.S. embassy in Tehran for 444 days. The hostage crisis was an unforgettable humiliation for the American superpower. Ironically, Mr. Ahmadinejad is suspected to have been one of the men who led the raid on the U.S. embassy.
Mr. Ahmadinejad has strictly followed the ideals of Islamic revolution that Mr. Khomeini advocated. For example, in 2003, right after he was elected mayor of Tehran, he ordered the closing of all Western-style fast food restaurants, and required male civil servants at City Hall to wear long-sleeved shirts.
At present, the biggest pending issue between Iran and the United States is the nuclear problem. The issue emerged in 2002, when Iran officially admitted that it had been covertly developing uranium enrichment technology for 18 years.
In November 2004, persuaded by three European nations, Great Britain, France and Germany, Iran declared it had temporarily suspended its nuclear development activities. But in May, it said it had resumed them.
Considering that the conservatives have consistently pursued nuclear development, the election of Mr. Ahmadinejad is expected to make the nuclear negotiations between Washington and Tehran tougher. As if to confirm those fears, Mr. Ahmadinejad, at a news conference after his victory, declared that he believed Iran needed to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes and that he would carry out his belief.
As a result of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the Iranian presidential election, the state of confrontation between the United States and Iran is expected to continue for now. Now more than ever, we need to pay attention to the changes in atmosphere in the Middle East.
One thing we should keep in mind is that Iran has special political and economic meaning to Korea. Having 8.7 percent of the world’s petroleum reserves, the Iranian oil has been a driving force for the growth of the Korean economy.
Home appliances, information technology products and automobiles made by Korean companies have the largest shares of their markets in Iran. Iran is also the biggest overseas construction market for Korea. Iran is one of Korea’s major export partners, worth $1.77 billion in 2003.
The Middle East is a high competition ground for national interest, where diplomatic strategies of the United States and European, Asian and Middle Eastern nations are entangled in complications.
Instead of being swayed by the result of the Iranian election, it is time for Korea to maintain consistency, for the sake of our national interest.
* The writer is a senior research fellow at the Institute of the Middle East Studies of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Jeong-myoung