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John Bryson Chane, the retired bishop of the Episcopal Washington diocese, speaks during Tuesday’s Interfaith Lecture in the Hall of Philosophy on the important role of Turkey in Iranian-American relations.
During his Interfaith Lecture on Monday, the Right Rev. John Chane demonstrated that Turkey and Iran share similar political and economic interests: Both are concerned about the plight of those living in the Palestinian territories, and soon the trade volume between the two countries is expected to exceed $30 billion, he said.
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However, Chane noted that Iran and Turkey also have their differences. Iran sees Syria’s Assad regime as its ally and as a distribution point for weapons, arming both Syrian forces and also Hezbollah. Turkey, on the other hand, views Syria as a destabilizing presence in the region and has directly opposed its leadership.
“And yet, even with these significant differences — and believe me, they’re significant — Turkey and Iran have been able to maintain diplomatic and trade relations with one another,” he said.
Chane opened Week Eight’s Interfaith Lecture theme, “Turkey: Crossroads of Many Faiths,” with a lecture titled “Turkey, Iran and the Nuclear Fatwa.” He spoke at 2 p.m. Monday in the Hall of Philosophy, replacing previously announced speaker Martin S. Indyk. The retired eighth Episcopal bishop of Washington, D.C., Chane is Chautauqua Institution’s chaplain in residence for Week Eight.
“Even in spite of Turkey’s Westward leanings, both Iran and Turkey have found it expedient to stay in a productive, diplomatic relationship,” he said. “It’s not been easy for either country, and it’s been an interesting dance to watch, for sure. But the most fascinating part of the Turkish-Iranian equation is the role that Turkey can play in brokering a reduction in the tensions that currently exist within the region.”
Turkey affirms Iran’s right to enrich uranium. Both countries are signers of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which, in many cases, allows signers to enrich uranium up to any level. Iran has also voluntarily allowed itself to be subject to more extensive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, Chane said.
But the P5+1 — the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany — have demanded that Iran immediately stop all operations to enrich uranium. And if Iran doesn’t do so, the sanctions against the republic will remain standing, Chane said.
“I have always been concerned about the very negative and aggressive behavior initiated and carried forth by the P5+1 toward Iran’s enrichment program,” Chane said.
He noted that it was in fact the U.S. that introduced nuclear technology to Iran, beginning with the Eisenhower administration and the Atoms for Peace initiative.
“In the beginning, [uranium was being enriched to] the 20 percent level — and that seemed to be reasonable,” Chane said. “And that’s where Turkey and Brazil came into the picture, in terms of trying to find a way forward to try to break this logjam between the West, Iran and the fears about the instabilities in the region.”
The efforts of Turkey and Brazil have failed, he said. Despite the fact that the non-proliferation treaty makes no restrictions on the levels of uranium enrichment, the P5+1 still demand that Iran cease all nuclear operations.
“Turkey’s Westward leaning, its support of NATO and its own dynamic, rapid economic growth as a Muslim [democratic] country — but not an Islamic state, which is important to clarify — makes it an attractive broker in helping to resolve the current nuclear enrichment impasse between Iran, its Middle Eastern neighbors and the West,” Chane said.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, has issued several fatwas stating that Iran does not seek to produce nuclear weapons.
One of the earliest fatwas, delivered to the IAEA in 2005, states, “The Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has issued a fatwa that the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that the Islamic Republic of Iran shall never acquire these weapons.”
Once a fatwa is issued, Chane explained, it must be obeyed. To not do so is to be guilty of a grievous sin.
To illustrate the power of a fatwa, Chane gave an example from the Iran-Iraq War: Knowing that Iraq was using chemical weapons to kill Iranian troops, Iran’s senior military leaders went to Ayatollah Khomeini, the supreme leader at the time, asking permission to reciprocate with chemical weapons of their own. Khomeini refused, citing a fatwa that he had issued earlier condemning such weapons. And the military obeyed this edict.
“[Turkey] has a closer diplomatic and economic relationship with Iran than any other country in the region,” Chane said. “And from the religious perspective, Turkey … has the ability to translate the high theological and governance directives of the fatwas that had been issued by the supreme leader to the West.”
Chane believes that the tensions between Iran and the West must be resolved very soon, principally by having the West reach out to Turkey and ask the country to help bring together Iran and the West. The sanctions have not only affected Iran’s economy, he said, but they have also affected the stability and well-being of its people.
Chane said that to ignore the power of the fatwa would be to disrespect the leader, who is both the head of state and Iran’s supreme religious authority.
Humiliation and disrespect are significant causes of tensions in the Middle East and violence against the West, Chane said. He recalled that, the day after the new president of Iran was elected, President Obama sent him a letter of greeting. At the same time, the House of Representatives voted to pass on to the Senate another level of sanctions against Iran that would “cripple the country.”
“Eighty percent of the House voted in favor of those sanctions,” Chane said. “And that was delivered one day after the new president was installed. That’s not the way to play politics in the 21st century, given the future of the Middle East and our own country.”