Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful Speaker of the Iranian Parliament, arrived in Moscow on Tuesday for talks with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev meant to strengthen relations between Tehran and Moscow after a decade of severe strain.
Gorbachev, calling Rafsanjani’s visit a “landmark event” in international relations, said the Soviet Union is “ready to go as far as Iran is ready to meet us halfway” in a political dialogue and diplomatic endeavors as well as in economic cooperation.
“In doing so, let the Iranian revolution preserve its values, its goals just as our perestroika is inspired by its own values and ideas,” Gorbachev told Rafsanjani, the highest-ranking Iranian official to visit Moscow since the Islamic revolution in Tehran a decade ago.
“In the hardest times of our relations, we stood on a balanced position, and we do all the more so now. There cannot and will not be anything in our policy that would damage Iran’s interests.”
For Gorbachev, this was a further step, one of his most striking, in what he calls the “de-ideolization” of Soviet foreign policy and his willingness to rethink almost every Soviet position.
After a decade of hostility, stemming from the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan but, ultimately, from the Kremlin’s acute fear of the Islamic revolution, the Soviet Union is offering Iran the respect denied it in the West--as well as critically important assistance in rebuilding the country after the devastating eight-year war with Iraq, which had significant Soviet backing.
For Rafsanjani, who is expected to win election as Iran’s new president next month, the trip is a demonstration of his own pragmatism, of his self-confidence and his control of the political situation in Iran after the death earlier this month of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the country’s supreme leader.
And it offers Iran a major opportunity to reduce its prolonged international isolation.
“Never before did the two countries have such chances for expanding their cooperation,” Rafsanjani told Gorbachev, according to the official Soviet news agency Tass. He then outlined nearly a dozen areas of broad agreement between Moscow and Tehran on international and bilateral questions, including the future of Afghanistan as “an independent, non-aligned, neutral country friendly to all its neighbors"--and continuing negotiations to end to Iran-Iraq conflict.
Rafsanjani and Gorbachev are to sign a series of agreements at the conclusion of their talks establishing the principles for a new relationship between Iran and the Soviet Union and laying the basis for expanded economic cooperation over the next decade.
“They are important not only because of their original content,” Gorbachev said, according to Tass, “but also because of the fact that, in the eyes of the two nations and of the whole world, we are two big neighboring states with serious and far-reaching plans. This is why I regard your visit as a landmark event.”
Rafsanjani, who is making his first foreign trip since Khomeini’s death, was warmly welcomed by Gorbachev. In apparent anticipation of his likely election as president since he is so far unopposed, the Speaker was accorded the ceremonial Kremlin welcome normally given heads of state, and Gorbachev was unusually deferential to him and to Iran in his remarks.
“We heard that your visit is the realization of the will of the late imam,” Gorbachev said, referring to Khomeini. “For us, this is an indisputable confirmation of the seriousness of your intentions. We respond with a friendly and sincere striving to build relations on a new foundation.”
Khomeini, who died June 3, had called the Soviet Union a Satanic force hostile to Islam in his will and had urged Iran to steer clear of both the “atheist East” and the “infidel West.”
But Rafsanjani said June 8 that Khomeini had told him shortly before his death that Iran must “strive for an improvement of relations with the great northern neighbor.” Khomeini had indicated the importance he attached to relations with the Soviet Union by writing a lengthy personal letter to Gorbachev last year and then receiving Eduard A. Shevardnadze, the Soviet foreign minister, in February.
Speaking on Tehran Radio before he left, Rafsanjani said that Gorbachev’s domestic and foreign policy reforms, the cease-fire last August in the Iran-Iraq War and the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan had made it possible to accept the Soviet invitation, originally extended two years ago, to come to Moscow.
In addition to bilateral relations, the focus of the first round of talks, the two leaders discussed the Middle East, Afghanistan and other issues of world politics, according to Tass.
Source of Assistance
With Iran’s relations with many Western countries still strained, and likely to remain so because of Khomeini’s order to kill novelist Salman Rushdie for blasphemy, the Soviet Union could become a principal source of much-needed assistance in the country’s economic reconstruction after the costly war with Iraq.
The new agreements are expected to cover the resumption of Iranian natural gas exports to the Soviet Union, railway construction and hydroelectric power projects in Iran, the expansion of a Soviet-built steel mill there and the completion of Soviet-engineered power plants in Esfahan and Ahwaz, according to Iranian sources here.
Arms purchases are also expected to be discussed--Rafsanjani is acting commander in chief of the Iranian armed forces--as Tehran seeks to rebuild its air force and armored corps after the long war. Iran has reportedly allocated $3 billion for arms this year, but is as interested in developing its own arms industry as buying Soviet weapons.
The gas deliveries, suspended in 1980 when the new revolutionary government in Tehran demanded three times as much money, could be resumed early next year to finance most of these purchases, according to Iranian sources. But Moscow is also reported offering at least $1.9 billion in low-interest credits.