In the face of recent unrest, many Middle Eastern governments have focused their energies inward to satisfy or, more frequently, deter protesters who are demanding reform. Not Iran, which stands to benefit from the shifting balance of power in the region. Last week, Iran sent two warships through the Suez Canal for the first time in three decades, prompting one U.S. government adviser to tell The New York Times that, among the current turmoil, “Iran is the big winner.” Need to Know spoke with former U.N. ambassador Dr. Mohammad Mahallati this week about the protests and Iran’s new role in a region that Mahallati feels is, even today, trying to shed the burdens imposed by the United States’ “Cold War mentality.”
Mahallati served as the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations from 1987 to 1989, when he worked on U.N. Security Council Resolution 598 to end the violence between Iran and Iraq that began with the Iran-Iraq War in September 1980. For 10 years before that, Mahallati served as director-general for international affairs during one of the country’s most formative periods. Since his time in the U.N., Mahallati has taught politics at Columbia, Princeton and Georgetown, and is currently a presidential scholar of Islam at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. Mahallati is currently working to have Congress declare April 8 International Friendship Day.