political writings

Français    English    Italiano    Español    Deutsch    عربي    русский    Português

Open letter by former senior UN officials
A China moment for the Middle East?

The resumption of negotiations in Geneva on the Iranian nuclear programme is a crucial moment for world peace, argue a group of seven former senior UN, UNESCO and ILO officials in this open letter in which they stress that "the West must understand countries are inhabited by people possessing our common humanity, with the same right to live, and must choose realism that unites over ideology that divides".

16 October 2013

A China moment for the Middle East?

In February 1972, President Nixon made a “surprise” visit to China, recognizing Mao’s communist regime and opening the door to the more or less peaceful relations that have prevailed ever since between the United States and China. Although Nixon had built his political career on the anticommunist campaigns that were in part a reaction to the “loss of China” in 1949, he was then following in the footsteps of General De Gaulle, who had established diplomatic relations with China eight years earlier, in 1964, because, as De Gaulle said, one must “recognize the world as it is”, and “before being communist, China is China”.

A year later, Nixon and Kissinger signed the Paris accords that put an official end to the American war in Vietnam. In 1963, Kennedy and Khrushchev resolved the Cuban missile crisis by withdrawing missiles from Cuba, on the Soviet side, and by promising not to attack Cuba and withdrawing missiles from Turkey, on the American side.

All these events changed the history of the world away from endless confrontation and the risk of global war. It must be remembered that neither China nor the Soviet Union nor North Vietnam met Western standards of democracy, less so in fact than present day Iran. De Gaulle, Kennedy, Nixon and Kissinger were no friends of communism and, on the other side, neither Khrushchev, Mao nor the Vietnamese had any use for capitalism and Western imperialism.

Peace is not something to be made between friends but between adversaries. It is based on recognition of reality. When countries or ideologies are in conflict, there are only two issues: total destruction of one side, as with Rome and Carthage, or peace and negotiations. As history shows, in the case of the Soviet Union, China and Vietnam, peace was a precondition that made the internal evolution of those countries possible.

During recent decades, when it comes to the Middle East, the West has forgotten the very notion of diplomacy. Instead, it has followed the line of “total destruction of the enemy”, whether Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Kadhafi in Libya, the Assad regime in Syria or the Islamic Republic of Iran. That line has been based on ideology: a mixture of human rights fundamentalism and blind support for the “only democracy in the region”, Israel. However, it has led to a total failure: this policy has brought no benefit whatsoever to the West and has only caused immense suffering to the populations that it claimed to be helping.

There are signs that the situation is changing. First the British and then the American people and their representatives rejected a new war in Syria. Russia, the U.S. and Syria reached an agreement over Syria’s chemical weapons. President Obama is making an overture towards honest negotiations with Iran.

All these incipient developments should be pursued with the utmost energy. The planned second Geneva conference on Syria must include all internal and external parties to the conflict if it is to constitute an important step towards finding a solution to the tragedy of that war-torn country. The unjust sanctions against Iran, as in the earlier case of Iraq, are severely punishing the population and must be lifted as soon as possible. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his supporters are staunchly opposed to these moves towards peace. But they must realize that there are limits to our willingness to “protect” Israel, if that country makes no effort whatsoever to live in peace with its neighbors. And we might start asking questions about the biggest elephant in the room: Israel’s weapons of mass destruction. Why should that country, alone in the region, possess such weapons? If its security is sacrosanct, what about the security of the Palestinians, or of the Lebanese? And why should the U.S., in the midst of a dire financial crisis, continue to bankroll a country that superbly ignores all its requests, such as stopping settlements in the Occupied Territories?

The West must understand that before being Baathist or Islamist, or communist in the past, countries are inhabited by people possessing our common humanity, with the same right to live, regardless of ideology. The West must choose realism that unites over ideology that divides. It is only then that we will move towards achieving our real interests, which presuppose peaceful relations between different social systems and mutual respect of national sovereignty.

Ultimately, our interests, if well understood, coincide with those of the rest of mankind.


Dr. Hans Christof von Sponeck, UN Assistant Secretary General and United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq (1998-2000)

Dr. Denis J. Halliday, UN Assistant Secretary General (1994-1998)

Dr. Miguel d´Escoto Brockmann, President of the UN General Assembly (2008-2009). Nicaraguan Foreign Minister (1979-1990).

Dr. Mahdi Elmandjra, Assistant Director General of UNESCO for the Social Sciences, Human Sciences and Culture (1966-1969); Assistant Director General of UNESCO for Programming and Future Studies (1971-1976).

Dr. Saïd Zulficar, UNESCO official (1967-1996). Director of Operational Activities, Division of Cultural Heritage (1992 -1996)

Dr. Samir Radwan, Adviser on Development Policies to the Director-General of ILO (2001-2003). Egyptian Finance Minister (January-July 2011).

Dr. José L. Gómez del Prado, Former Senior Officer at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Member of the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries (2005-2011).