Statement by H.E. Mohammad Khatami 
President of the Islamic Republic of Iran
           before the 53rd Session of  the United Nations General Assembly
New York, September 21, 1998
  In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful

     The light of human existence has been kindled with man's longing for salvation.  The essence of the message of Divine Prophets and the content of the teachings of prominent sages have been primarily aimed at human salvation.  Painful in the observable arena of human history is the deprivation and abject misery of human beings; the deprivation of women, men and children enslaved by the whims of the ruling powers; and the ill- fate of rulers, themselves deprived of compassion and sympathy with their own nation. Hence, virtuous rule and good governance has but been evanescent in human history.
    Ironically, much too often will and freedom of thought have been frustrated and liberty suffocated in the name of salvation, and much too often salvation has been portrayed as disposing of any and all restraints on the insatiable human desires. Reason and love have thus been sacrificed at the altar of  the whim. At times, liberty have been trampled in the name of justice, and yet at other times justice has been obliterated in the name of freedom.  The result has been the age old deprivation of humanity from both justice in liberty and liberty in justice.

    It is only a few centuries since genuine knowledge was construed as the source of power, rather than an agent of its control.  Ever since, knowledge has, instead of serving human salvation and instead of exalting human character, been used as an instrument in the hands of those whose only object was to advance their narrow utilitarian self-interest.
    Despite its magnificent progress, humanity has suffered massively over these centuries from discrimination and anguish. Survivors are still among us who testify to the incalculable destruction caused by the two World Wars ... and ... despite the birth of the United Nations - a positive achievement for mankind - true peace based on justice still remains a scarcity.
    Particularly desperate is the situation of the countries in the underdeveloped world, where so many still suffer from famine, illiteracy and disease and some remain at the mercy of rulers who do not even take the trouble of pretending respect for democratic standards or enjoying popular support.  So often do they attempt to fill the absence of popular support by dependence on powers, whose sole purpose is the pursuit of domination and self interest.
    Oppressive and dependent governments deny their people the opportunity to experience democracy. By perpetuating intimidation and terror in the society, they promote a culture of violence, which inadvertently leads their opponents to resort to the same.  Powers that breed and nurture such regimes could therefore not escape blame.  Primarily responsible here, are those powers whose intelligence services take pride in their dark record of overthrowing popular governments and supporting unpopular ones.

    This image of our world is indeed grim and repulsive.  Until the day that the wise and the learned wrest the reins of power from the unwise and the capricious, this image can not, all at once, be transformed.

    Nonetheless, in my opinion, beyond the darkness and doom, genuine beauty can still be discerned in the deeper layers of history.  And, I can assert with certitude that, on the whole, human life has blossomed spiritually and materially.

    Anti-colonial struggles and independence movements of many nations in this century exemplify this blossoming and progress.  The collapse of the bipolar world order in the final decade of this century, and the swift march of the world towards diversity coupled with renewed assertion of identity in the international arena by nations demanding equality are other significant achievements in this direction.

    The fantasy of a unipolar world ruled by a single super-power is but an illusion, indicating the failure of its holders to keep pace with history.  And, I am confident, that powerful nations, such as the American people, will not accept that their good name, potentials and national prestige be exploited for the advancement of the dream of a uni-polar world by the politicians, motivated by the short-sighted material and factional  interests of a few.  The evolution of public opinion in the West in support of  peaceful relations on the basis of mutual respect testifies to this assertion.
And now, Mr. President and Distinguished Participants,

    Allow me to speak here as a man from the East, the origin of brilliant civilizations and the birth place of Divine Prophets - - Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammad (peace be upon them all).
 I come from the noble land of Iran, representing a great and renowned nation, famous for its age old civilization as well as its distinguished contribution to the founding and expansion of the Islamic civilization; a nation that has survived the strong winds of despotism, reactionism and submission, relying on its cultural and human wealth; a nation which pioneered in the East the establishment of civil society and constitutional government in the course of its contemporary history, even though as a result of foreign interference and domestic deficiencies, at times it may have faltered in its course; a nation which has been at the forefront of the struggle for independence and against colonialism, though its national movement was subverted by a foreign- orchestrated coup.  And, a nation which carries the torch of its popular revolution, not won by force of arms or a coup, but by dethroning of the regime of coup d'etat through the power of "word" and "enlightenment".  In the course of its new experience, our nation has endured eight years of an imposed war, pressure, sanctions and various allegations.  It has also fallen victim to terrorism, this ominous and sinister phenomenon of the twentieth century.

    And today, the Iranian nation draws on its past to contemplate a better tomorrow while defying reactionary tendencies and, backed by principles and ideals rooted in its religious, national, historical and revolutionary heritage, and benefitting from positive achievements of contemporary civilization, marches, through trial and error, towards a promising future.

    The Islamic Revolution of the Iranian people was a revolt of reason against coercion and suppression.  Certainly, a revolution which resorted to logic in the phase of destruction is much better disposed to resort to dialogue and reason in the phase of construction. Hence, it calls for a dialogue among civilizations and cultures instead of a clash between them.

    From this rostrum and the pulpit of the United Nations, I announce that humanity, despite all calamities and hardship,  is heading towards emancipation and liberty. This is the unalterable Devine providence and human destiny. And the malice and depravity of no individual can ever violate Divine providence and the course of history.

Mr. President,

    The word "history" predates "philosophy" and man is the pillar of history.  History itself is the reflection of the light of Being upon various facets and dimensions of human existence.  Thus, it is a unique and universal entity, albeit diverse in nature. Whenever, this unique entity takes on a new guise, a new era is ushered. Our assessment of history indeed emanates from our perception of humanity - its pivot and pillar.

    Human beings, who in Saadi's eloquent description borrowed from a saying of the holy Prophet of Islam, are various organs of the same body, are outside the reach of biology or psychology.  Understanding human beings requires a philosophical and reflective view of man and its history.

    Since "God created man with His Own Hand," and in "His Own Image," and since He breathed into him of "His Own Spirit,"  humanity is but a single entity, and so is human history. The "Hand of God" granted humankind history, will and freedom of choice; the "image of God" provided him culture, spirituality and liberty; and the spirit of God bestowed upon him life and vitality.  And thus, human beings have come to posses history, culture and liberty.

     Not only do all human beings originate from the one and the same origin and share a continuous and integrated history, but also one may further postulate a single end or telos: the telos of history is none other than spiritual culture and its requisite of genuine human liberty.

    Whether or not one subscribes to the view that man is doomed to whirl in iterative historical cycles, or to grapple with historical moments or epochs; and whether or not one holds history to be self-driven, or driven by human urges, or by modes of production, or by superhuman heroes, all can agree that it is only the ever-inspiring fountain of faith that breaks every old and new shackle from humanity and arrests the iterative eternal cycle, and eventually emancipates humankind from the bounds of historical determination; just as it is only the vivifying breeze of liberty that can offer faith and spirituality to humanity.  It is thus that he can serenade that "the universe I shall not abide if not abiding me,"   or that "...whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass.."

    Through such an understanding of freedom, the tenets of human dignity can be upheld in the face of  political domination and virtue and hope against baneful blasts of despair and nihilism.  Here, one can discern the trajectory of history towards liberty.

    The history of humankind is the history of liberty. Only that interpretation which describes history as the arena for manifestation of liberty can provide an opening of the past for the benefit of mankind. Regardless of all philosophical systems that have attempted to attribute meanings, directions and laws of evolution to history, we can realize that because human history is intertwined with the history of liberty, when human beings are liberated from imposed constraints of exploitation and social enslavement as well as from unrefined animal instincts as violence and savagery, they will then side with truth and justice in line with their  human nature.  Thence, human history shall become the glorious history of Truth and realization of justice. And this could be another expression of the famous religious doctrine of Messianism.

    Whether we embark on an empirical and inductive study of history or an intuitive one, most thinkers would agree that the essence of humanity has flourished and that more veils of ignorance have been removed from the minds of human beings.

    I have deliberately used the word "flourish" instead of the more common terms, such as "historical progress", in order to emphasize that regardless of any school of philosophy of history we may follow, we can still share an understanding of this general and universal conception of history.

    The establishment and continued functioning of the United Nations is a testament to the progressive path of the world and of human society. The fact that today it does not require much argument to establish that instead of war and bloodshed, one could, and indeed ought to, resort to discourse and dialogue, has not been achieved easily.  As if the blood-stained history of humanity forms an antecedent to this seemingly simple proposition.

    Yet, so long as imprudent potentates can obliterate flowers and trees, laughter and hope from the face of the earth with a quick stroke of their folly and cruelty, it is premature to celebrate the ultimate triumph of the Logos over the sword.

    The twentieth century did not only witness the manifestations of violence and human sufferings at the hands of old colonialists and the unprecedented injustice of their modern inheritors, but it was also the century of the rise and fall of totalitarian regimes.  Let us hope that in the coming century resort to force and violence shall not be glorified, and the essence of political power be compassion and justice, externally manifested in dialogue between civilizations.

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

    The question is how the United Nations may undertake the necessary measures to respond to this evolving global climate, and what impact it will have on the changing course of the life of mankind longing for salvation.

    I would like to propose, in the name of the Islamic Republic of Iran, that the United Nations, as a first step, designate the year 2001 as the "Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations," with the earnest hope that through such a dialogue, the realization of universal justice and liberty may be initiated.

    Among the worthiest achievements of this century is the acceptance of the necessity and significance of dialogue and rejection of force, promotion of understanding in cultural, economic and political fields, and strengthening of the foundations of liberty, justice and human rights.  Establishment and enhancement of civility, whether at national or international level, is contingent upon dialogue among societies and civilizations representing various views, inclinations and approaches.  If humanity at the threshold of the new century and millennium devotes all efforts to institutionalize dialogue, replacing hostility and confrontation with discourse and understanding, it would leave an invaluable legacy for the benefit of the future generations.

    Similarly, it is necessary that as members of the United Nations, we revisit the history of the formation of this Organization with a view to reforming and improving the institution through a rational exchange of views.

    The United Nations took shape in a dark era of human history, when many of its current members were still experiencing the bitter and abominable conditions of colonial rule.  As a consequence, the new Organization reflected the domination of the powerful few. Things have changed now, and the opportunity has presented itself to restructure this Organization, particularly its Security Council. Here, I would like to refer to the wise words of the Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran in his inaugural address to the Eighth Session of the Islamic Summit Conference in Tehran that the Islamic countries representing one billion and several hundred million people should acquire a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council with the same privileges as long as they are enjoyed by current Permanent Members.

    The time has come to reject, through understanding, the discriminatory veto privilege, and in so doing take another step towards the recognition of fair and equal rights of all member states.

Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates,

    Let us all join hands in solidarity against genocide, aggression and the humiliation of mankind in various corners of the world. Let us prevent the continuation of shameful tragedies which have tarnished the face of this century in Palestine, Afghanistan, Kosovo and in many other parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

    Peace and security in the Middle East, imperative as they are, will be established only through the recognition of the right of all Palestinians to exercise sovereignty over their ancestral homeland. The presently occupied Al-Quds Al-Sharif ought to be the house of dialogue and understanding. Resonating from the depth of history, its voice speaks intrinsically against racism and Zionism. Great monotheistic religions can live peacefully together in Al-Quds Al-Sharif, but it is the very Israeli rule that has made such a co-existence impossible. Palestine is the home of all Palestinians - Muslims, Christians and Jews - and not the laboratory for the violent whims of Zionists.

    In Afghanistan, there is no military solution to that country's predicament. Universal outrage at massacre and genocide being perpetrated there, particularly the tragic killing of Iranian diplomats and journalist as well as at the continued captivity of the Iranian aid workers in the hands of the Taliban, call for sober analysis and expeditious action to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice.

    Afghanistan, the land of people of dignity and culture, has now been turned into a haven for violence, terrorism and production and trafficking in narcotics.  The Afghan people, as other peoples in the world, have the inalienable right to determine their own destiny, and have the right to enjoy a broad-based government representing all ethnic groups, communities and tendencies in that country. This is the only way to restore tranquility in Afghanistan. This requires resolute international cooperation in order to inhibit the lucrative and deadly business of production and smuggling of narcotics, illicit trafficking in weapons and cultivation of  terrorism. The United Nations, in cooperation with the Organization of the Islamic Conference and concerned states, should bring all the parties to the conflict to the negotiating table, paving the way for the tyrannized and destitute Afghan people to freely determine their own destiny, and backed by solemn global support, bring the rogue elements into compliance with the will of the international community. It should simultaneously engage in planning for the mobilization of requisite international assistance for reconstruction of Afghanistan once the necessary political conditions are in place.

    In Kosovo, the legitimate rights of the embattled people in this province should be recognized and the Yugoslav Government should be made to respect these rights.

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

    Honest and sincere efforts to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including state terrorism, constitute another important priority for the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Terrorism is a product of desperation and nihilism. In a world swirling in the orbit of violence and oppression, serious combat against terrorism will not advance beyond the realm of words and slogans.  Eradication of terrorism must be concurrent with a global search for justice. This assertion should in no way be interpreted as a justification for any form of terrorism. We unequivocally oppose, as required by our religious, moral and cultural values and norms, all forms and manifestations of terrorism and we shall combat it vigorously and earnestly. In our view, in order to eradicate this menace, we should engage in a serious and transparent international cooperation to combat terrorism, and at the same time redouble our efforts to attain the objective of global justice.

    At the threshold of the third millennium, the world also needs to be liberated from the nightmare of nuclear war and weapons of mass destruction. Recent nuclear tests in our region, which have led to further complications, make such a necessity all the more imperative. We should all realize that the idea of attaining security through the acquisition of such armaments is nothing but an illusion. The manifestation of a resolute global determination to eliminate all existing arsenals of weapons of mass destruction, within an agreed time frame, would render clarity of objective, lend credence and add dynamism to the international efforts against the production and proliferation of these deadly weapons. The establishment of zones free from weapons of mass destruction, particularly in the Middle East, constitutes an appropriate first step in alleviating tension and mistrust emanating from these weapons. We, in the Islamic Republic of Iran, as the victims of the use of weapons of mass destruction, are cognizant, more than anybody else, of their horrifying impact.  We shall thus stay in the forefront of international efforts to establish and strengthen universal arrangements for their destruction.

    Security, development and prosperity in the Third World require the promotion of cooperation and the utilization of proven arrangements and mechanisms for confidence-building. In this regard, it is encouraging that the Eighth Islamic Summit Conference in Tehran, cognizant of this necessity, established an appropriate mechanism to foster confidence through dialogue among Islamic countries.

    As a first step in this direction, I invite our neighbors in the Persian Gulf region - who have witnessed two destructive wars in the span of one decade - to establish a security and cooperation system in the area.

    In short, confidence and peace cannot be attained without a sober revision of the mentality of the Cold War. The advancement and promotion of culture of peace is contingent upon the recognition of the constructive role of nations coupled with avoidance of domination, unilateralism, confrontation and exclusion.

    The Islamic Republic of Iran, in keeping with its fundamental beliefs and deep-rooted civilizational heritage, seeks a world blessed with peace and tranquility based on human dignity.  It has accorded removal of tension the highest priority in its foreign policy. In line with the principles of the Islamic Revolution, Iran is determined to follow its balanced policy of expansion of relations with its neighbors and other countries on the basis of respect for independence and equality of rights.

    Comprehensive peace, over and above peace among human beings, also calls for peace between mankind  and nature, which in turn, requires that mankind brings to a halt the systematic devouring of  nature and instead emphasizes the coordination of man and nature.  The preservation of the environment, as the common natural heritage of mankind, constitutes a most important priority of the coming century.

     Before concluding, I would like to emphasize the paramount role of the family, women and youth in the  making of a better tomorrow and the consolidation of the foundations of the civil society throughout the globe.

    The family is the unique setting for human progress and development of personal and social identity of individuals.  Regrettably today, specially in the industrialized countries, the foundations of home and family have been undermined, threatening the emotional, material and spiritual health of human life. A global effort is required to confront this danger, lest the flames of this center of warmth, affection and education be gradually dimmed by the cold and vicious winds of luring facades, lust and material gain.

    Efforts at the global level geared to the promotion and strengthening of respect for women and their rights require a critical reassessment of the traditional and inappropriate views about women. The traditional outlook, based on the erroneous notion of superiority of men over women, does injustice to men, women and humanity as a whole; equally nefarious is the view that disregards the differences between men and women.  We should recognize that both men and women are valuable components of humanity that equally possess the potential for intellectual, social, cultural and political development, and that comprehensive and sustainable development is only possible through the active participation of both men and women in social life.

    At the threshold of the new millennium, the United Nations should have faith in the new generation, to whom the next century belongs.  It should thus be prepared to accept and embrace the requirements of believing in the youth.  Let us bring ourselves to accept that we are not custodians of the youth and that the young do have the right to enjoy the social process of growth and development; a right they should exercise consciously and willfully.

    With such a new perspective, and drawing upon the dynamic ability  and intellectual capability of the new generation, we, together, can chart a much better and brighter future for the next century.

    I  thank you for your attention.

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