As an intern at the UN we sometimes get opportunities to visit Member State Missions and meet with a representative. I had the odd opportunity of being able to visit both the Iranian Mission to the UN, and a rep from the Israeli Mission within the same week.
Fundamentally, it’s amazing that the United Nations exists, and that countries who have difficulty cooperating in other arenas are forced into the same room with one another and even into direct collaboration within some of the Committees. However, one also learn that some tensions really can’t be “talked out”, no matter how long you put people into a room together. When basic and ingrained ideologies clash, how can you really make progress? This struck myself and several of the other interns as we trooped first to a talk with an Israeli Mission representative, and later in the week to one with the Iranian Mission representatives.
For example, to many of the interns, it seemed that Palestinian refugees should be allowed to be absorbed back into Israel–especially since Lebanon and other nearby countries refuse to do so. However, the Israeli representative was adamant that in order for the Israeli state to persist and achieve the objectives of its mandate (to provide a home and refuge for the Jewish people), they could not allow the many Palestinian refugees to return (as increasing numbers of Palestinian residents could overcome the Jewish majority).
At the Iranian mission, the interns inquired about the Israeli-Palestinian situation, and whether a one or two-state solution would be possible. The Iranian representative responded with: “If someone broke into your house and began occupying the second floor–would you negotiate with them? No!” The Iranian rep then passed out a serious of articles on Iran’s “nuclear” program, most of which said ‘we don’t want nukes! we’re researching nuclear for other purposes, so back off’, or that was the gist.
Iran and Israel, as predicted, disagreed on almost every point brought to their attention, and another one was the US’ foreign policies. Israel, predictably, reiterated again and again the importance of their relationship with the US, whereas Iran’s position on US foreign policy was one of total frustration. In Iran’s eyes, they are ready to “play nice” with the US–they want direct flights from Tehran to JFK, they want to trade–“Don’t you want cheap gas??” the rep entreated the interns–and they are extremely appreciative that the US dealt with Saddam Hussein. In the Iranian’s reps’ eyes, the US and its allies simply fears Shi’ism, and is doing everything in its power to stop its “spread” and to meddle in foreign affairs accordingly. With sanctions imposed by all Western countries, Iran has had to turn its trade to other markets, and in doing so, developed a project to build an oil pipeline through neighboring Pakistan and India. According to the Iranian rep, when the US got wind of this Pakistan and India were brought under American influence and promptly backed out.
A number of other regional issues were covered in these talks (including the instability in Syria), but the overall message to the interns seemed to be that the staunch positions taken by these countries were not going to change anytime soon, and that the “meddling” of countries in other nations affairs has gone rampant, so to speak. Beyond that, the finger pointing was so integral to their positions that it makes one wonder if progress can ever really be made. Both countries felt extremely discriminated against as far as UN procedures, elections to special committees, and just with their overall treatment within the system.
However, the Iranian Mission’s main message to the interns was: “Do not fear Iran–we want to work with America, and with other countries. I hope you grow up to influence others to listen, and to be more tolerant”. And that is one message that I hope that I can pass on to others. Perhaps less backdoor “meddling” and more transparency and honest, tolerant interactions between these parties within the United Nations’ meeting halls can eventually lead to some sort of understanding between such diverse parties–one can hope!