Iran clings to its old violent ways: Few doubt Tehran is behind several attacks on Rushdie's publishers, writes Charles Richards, Middle East Editor
So when Iranian diplomats launched one of their periodic charm offensives a few weeks ago warning bells were immediately set off. The diplomats who approached the Independent had one issue to discuss: the case of Salman Rushdie, whose publisher in Norway was shot and wounded yesterday. Moderates and pragmatists on all sides agree that for political and technical reasons the fatwa against Rushdie cannot be rescinded. But for all practical purposes it can be considered to have lapsed.
More radical elements in the Iranian establishment, from the spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, downwards, have reiterated their calls for the persecution of Rushdie.
Government circles, however, have been at pains to distance themselves from what they present as an issue that does not have government backing. Such protestations must be treated with caution. Tehran insists that the bonyad or religious institution which placed the dollars 2m (pounds 1.3m) bounty on Rushdie's head is independent. Yet its directors are all appointed by the government.
Few doubt that the fingers of Tehran's very long hands have been meddling in a succession of attacks on publishers and translators of Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, from Tokyo to Milan to Ankara. Iran has also been behind assassinations of Iranian dissidents outside Iran.
And throughout the Arab world, Iran's hand is seen behind attempts by Islamic groups to destabilise the existing order. Egypt has accused Iran of stirring up Islamic extremists bent on toppling the government - an accusation for which it has furnished no evidence. And Iran continues to sponsor Palestinian and Lebanese groups opposed to accommodation with Israel.
Gulf strategists have expressed concern at Iran's rearmament programme, though it has not replaced the hardware destroyed in its war with Iraq. Greater foreboding stems from attempts, so far unsuccessful, by Iran to obtain weapons of mass destruction.
So if Iranian diplomats are actively promoting the idea that their country is quietly trying to forget about Rushdie, why should an attack be mounted at this time on his Norwegian publisher when the trail will, rightly or wrongly, lead to Tehran? What is the evidence of the reorientation of foreign policy by a more pragmatic President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani?
Iran's foreign policy, for all the rhetoric of its leaders, is not directed at any enemy, whether the 'Great Satan' in Washington, the old enemy Iraq or the 'decadent' kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Foreign policy is centred on Opec, on maintaining as high a price for Iranian oil as possible. For Iran needs every cent. It has a rapidly rising population, which has to be fed, housed and given jobs. The economy has been liberalised over the past couple of years, yet investment in productive industry remains limited, and the country relies heavily on imports.
By the same token, Western countries are keen to exploit opportunities in the lucrative Iranian market. For that reason, the major Western countries are prepared to forgive Iran its misdemeanours. So Iran will continue to conduct foreign policy in often violent ways with relative impunity.
Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way
Powerful images of strays taken moments before being put down
The Washington Post editor helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein bring down President Nixon
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
- 1 Salisbury ranked seventh-best city in the world to visit in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015
- 2 Disney announces new female-led film Moana
- 3 Banksy has not been arrested: Internet duped by fake report claiming artist's identity revealed
- 5 Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
Chicago voter tells Obama 'don't touch my girlfriend' – Obama stays super smooth
Oscar Pistorius: The brutal prison life that awaits disgraced athlete
Banksy has not been arrested: Internet duped by fake report claiming artist's identity revealed
Raphael Ravenscroft dead: 'Baker Street' musician who played the most famous saxophone solo for just £27, dies aged 60
Darren Vann: Indiana man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear more
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
Jose Manuel Barroso warns David Cameron against making 'historic mistake' over immigration reforms
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: The role could involve w...
£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified secondary s...
£22000 - £36000 per annum + MPR / UPR: Randstad Education Southampton: Our cli...
£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...