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View Diary: Khatami is In--This is a Clear Signal (309 comments)

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    Swiss diplomat Philippe Welti spent more than four years as his nation's chief envoy to Iran -- and Washington's. He discusses the benefits and limitations of diplomacy with the Islamic Republic.
    I fully agree with his assessment. go Read the full story


    Bleak Perception...Black-and-white footage of angry demonstrators and clerics clouded Welti's imagination. He foresaw life as a diplomat in Tehran as an endless cycle of working and sleeping, occasionally heading abroad for decent food and entertainment. "I had a bad picture," he recalled. "Gray on gray."

    His very first morning was a shock. The weather was fantastic. The sunshine gleamed. And he was received just as warmly by Iranian officials, and was stunned by their respectfulness and delicate manners.

    In the following months, he visited ancient sites in Isfahan, Shiraz and Yazd, glimpsing the depths of a Persian civilization that Iranians so proudly celebrate. In southern Iran he saw wild camels roaming the desert as well as a highly sophisticated bioresearch center led by a female scientist.

    "Everything was colorful -- the society, the women's outfits, the beauty of the young women and men," he recalled. "There was a decency among the people."

    Then there were the parties, rollicking all-night affairs filled with music, dance and booze. "It was incredible," he said. "We're in Tehran here!"

    Evolving perception

    But his initial euphoria gave way to a more negative view of the nation as he gained a more thorough understanding of Iran's political and social system. In getting to know ranking officials, he came to believe that the Islamic Republic was "not at the level of its aspirations or claims."

    He saw mendacious officials manipulate public opinion and was disappointed by the cynicism of some top officials, who rationalized away concerns about human rights and freedom of expression by labeling them "Western" concepts.

    He was struck by the provincialism of the officials, many of them recent arrivals to the capital from rural backwaters, he said. "I got the impression that there are officials who do not know the world well."

    He found himself frustrated with both the stubbornness of Iran's conservative camp and the weakness of its reformists. After a couple of years in Tehran and watching the transition from Khatami to Ahmadinejad, he concluded that it would be tough to change Iran's foreign policies.

    "As long as there is a gap between fundamentalist positions and international standards of intergovernmental exchange and relations, it will be difficult for Iran to engage fully with the world," he said.

    Another Must read:

    "The Power Structure of the Islamic Republic of Iran: transition from populism to clientelism, and militarization of the government" published in Third World Quarterly. Full text

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