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> Analysis on L'Aquila Summit

G8 2009 Summit Performance:
Promoting Democracy in Iran

Julie Feinberg and John Kirton
G8 Research Group
July 9, 2009

Recent events in Iran, following the questionable results of the presidential election of June 12, had placed the question of Iranian democracy and respect of human rights at the heart of the agenda for the G8 summit in the Italian city of L'Aquila on July 8-10, 2009.

The G8 comes to the summit with a rich background of encouraging democracy and respect for human rights in Iran, as elsewhere. It had expressed deep concern for the humanitarian crisis in Iran within the framework of the Iran-Iraq war from 1984 onwards. Until 1997, however, the G8 limited its statements to the encouragement of stability in the region, urging Iran to cease all sabotage and interference in the Middle East peace process and nuclear proliferation. The 1997 summit in Denver, hosted by Democratic President Bill Clinton, introduced the first G8 statement directly targeting democratization in Iran. The statement expressed the G8's superficial interest in the recent election of the moderate president Mohammad Khatami, who ran on a platform of internal reforms with regards to citizens', and, in particular, women's rights. In Denver, the G8 also significantly called “upon the Iranian Government to respect the human rights of all Iranian citizens and to renounce the use of terrorism, including against Iran citizens living abroad”.

Iran's most recent election has once again put it on the G8 agenda. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's electoral victory in the run-off against the more reform-oriented Mir-Hossein Mousavi sparked popular protest and galvanized the masses in Tehran amid talk of electoral irregularities. The Iranian regime responded to the protests and calls for fair democratic elections with mass arrests of thousands and the confirmed execution of at least 12-15 Iranian citizens. The Iranian government also censured access to the Internet and severely limited any discussion of dissent in the official media in blatant disregard for the freedom of speech and of the press.

On the eve of the summit, Tehran arrested 8 local staff members from the British Embassy and had placed a French teacher, Clotilde Reiss, in the infamous Evin prison on espionage charges. With these actions, along with the violent crackdown against the internal outcry in Iran for true democratic elections, Iran provided a challenge tailor made for the G8, whose founding mission from 1975 was to promote open democracy and individual liberty around the world. The G8 responded to the 2009 challenge with substantial success plausibly evident even before the start of the summit. Faced with Berlusconi’s estimate that the G8 summit was moving in the direction of endorsing or imposing sanctions, the prospect of the EU members withdrawing their ambassadors from Tehran, condemnations from the UN and UNESCO and Merkel’s equation of Iran’s leaders with communist east Germany’s Stasi, the Iran government released all the local employees of the British embassy it had arrested a few days before the summit’s start. In addition, the statement issued by the chair of the G8 foreign ministers meeting on June 27 had offered a long and detailed list of places where G8 leaders could act to further democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Convening on the first day of the summit on July 8, the G8 alone dedicated much of its first working dinner to the discussion of political issues, dominated by Iran. The G8 political communiqué started with the subject of democracy in Iran, stated the G8 remained “seriously concerned” and affirmed the values of democracy, rule of law, civil and political rights and press freedom. It affirmed the sanctity of embassies and their staff. The leaders also agreed to a framework of direct diplomatic negotiations on nuclear proliferation between Iran and the Sextet of China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S. as well as other G8 members. According to the statement, the G8 will monitor the progress made in the talks and “take stock” in September at the G8 meeting of the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. Implicitly, they would also take stock of Iran's anti-democratic repression too.

G8 performance on Iran at L'Aquila was successful. The group abstained from recommending or referring to sanctions on Iran, perhaps as a reward to Iran for freeing all the Embassy hostages it had seized. The G8 made additional significant steps, some never seen before on the issue. Progress, already under way prior to the summit, seemed to strengthen with regard to the situation of the French teacher detained in Iran, who was allowed to speak to the French ambassador early on the second day of the summit. Furthermore, the unanimous call upon the Iranian government to resolve its problems through a democratic dialogue, was the first time the G8 ever issued a statement to that effect. Finally, the readiness to engage in direct negotiations with Iran with regard to its nuclear program, itself significant, was further reinforced by the 2 month deadline imposed on the negotiations. The G8 also added the direct statement “We condemn the declarations of President Ahmadinejad denying the Holocaust”, thus reaffirming the 2007 Heiligendamm summit statement on the issue, but, for the first time ever, singling out Iran's leader by name.

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