Interview with an international symposium panelist
Part 1: Mr. Nobuhisa Degawa, NHK Senior Commentator

Project for bridging the development of relations between Iran and the international society

With Iran's full scale return to international society, the Sasakawa Middle East Islam Fund extends assistance to help the country develop a suitable environment to exert its full potential in various fields and contribute to the peace and stability of the region and the rest of the world. In May this year, the Sasakawa Middle East Islam Fund (SMEIF) organized an international symposium titled " Promoting Active Particilpation of Women, Peace and Sustainable Development"in Tehran in conjunction with the office of Iran's Vice President for Women and Family Affairs and the Institute for Political and International Studies. Experts from both Japan and Iran engaged in active discussions to learn from each other's experiences for future cooperation. We interviewed Japanese experts who participated in the symposium.

Part1is an interview with the NHK Senior Commentator, Mr. Nobuhisa Degawa, who participated in Session 1 "Empowerment of Women: Issues and Challenges" as a moderator. Part 2 introduces the comments of three Japanese female experts who also attended the symposium.

Interview with Mr. Nobuhisa Degawa

―Changes in Iran in its search for full return to international society

My participation in this international symposium means I have visited Iran three times over the last six months. The previous visit was in February this year to cover the country's parliamentary elections. Iran had been in international isolation for 37 long years since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Economic sanctions against the country are gradually being lifted following the final agreement on Iran's nuclear deal with six world powers including Europe and the United States in July last year. Amidst this change, European countries and many others including South Korea and China are vying for the opportunity to enter into the Iranian market and engage in the importation and development of the country's energy resources including oil and natural gas.

With Iran rapidly becoming part of international society and repairing its relations with western nations, I directed my attention, during this visit, to how Iran's diplomacy and public mentality are changing. What impressed me most was Iran's confidence, or Iran's enthusiasm to come out of international isolation and show the new Iran to the rest of the world as a regional power with strong presence.

―What was Iran's stance in this international symposium?

SPF NowIranDSC_0338.jpg I think Iran chose the theme of women's empowerment out of a sense of rivalry with Saudi Arabia, with which Iran severed diplomatic ties in January this year.

Religiously and traditionally, Saudi Arabia imposes various restrictions and regulations on how women should act. Even though the country has recently allowed women to participate in politics as a member of parliament on limited roles, it is extremely difficult for women to have political or social power in principle. In contrast, Iran has embraced women's empowerment mainly in urban areas, with a large ratio of women advancing to university education. Many women serve prominent roles as public servants, teachers and doctors. In view of the fact that Iran has had two female Vice Presidents to date, the country is in a more advanced state of women's empowerment compared to Saudi Arabia. Iran seems to have chosen women's issues for this international symposium to appeal to the rest of the world that, among Muslim nations and particularly compared to Saudi Arabia, Iran is in leaps and bounds ahead in terms of women's empowerment.

―Tasks and issues that await Iran in the future

Last year, the Iranian government led by President Hassan Rouhani and the U.S. Obama administration reached a final agreement on the issue of Iran's nuclear program through political negotiations, defying earlier assumption that the issue would be extremely difficult to resolve. In the parliamentary elections held in February this year, the reformist and moderate Iranian politicians allied with President Hassan Rouhani significantly increased their seats. The result was a clear indication that many citizens support President Rouhani's moderate and realistic policy line, willing to engage in dialogs with western countries and cooperate with them wherever possible so as to bring Iran back into the fold of international society. Yet, that does not mean that Iran and the United States would bury the hatchet so easily and move toward mending their relationship, e.g. restoring their diplomatic ties.

With the nuclear agreement, Iranian leaders want to see the economic sanctions completely lifted, in order to bring an upturn to its economy and people's standard of living. Yet, some questions remain on whether the economic sanctions would really be lifted, allowing Iran to freely trade with other countries. For example, I suspect European banks are cautious about trading with Iran due to the continued U.S. financial sanctions against Iran as well as pressure from the United States. Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei chose to refer to this issue on March 20 during his address to the nation marking the Iranian New Year.

The U.S. Presidential Election will be held in November this year. The Republican candidate Donald Trump has publicly pledged to tear up the nuclear agreement with Iran if he is elected. That is why Iran is holding its breath as it closely monitors the course of the presidential race.

By around June next year, Iranians will also go to the polls to choose their new President. It remains to see if President Rouhani will be re-elected. The Rouhani administration's moderate policy line and the nuclear agreement have given the people of Iran strong expectations that their economy and standard of living will improve. The government's failure to meet the expectations could lower the support rating of President Rouhani, giving conservative hardliners a chance to regain a foothold. Iran's future direction is affected by many uncertain factors, such as the result of the U.S. Presidential election and progress in the lifting of economic sanctions.

―Iran's expectations for Japan

Even after the Islamic Revolution, Iran has seen Japan as a good partner it can trust. Japan and Iran maintained diplomatic ties and did not have any bilateral dispute even when Iran was in international isolation and tense confrontation with the United States and Europe. This international symposium has given Iranian participants an opportunity to re-acknowledge this fact. I felt Iran's strong expectations for increased cooperation from Japan in a variety of fields including the environment, education and energy development.

Nobuhisa Degawa(NHK Senior Commentator)
Joined NHK in 1985 after graduating from the University of Tokyo College of Arts and Sciences. Served as the head of NHK Bureaus in Tehran, Jerusalem, Cairo and Baghdad, before assuming the current position. Specializes in the Middle East and Islam region. Has covered Iran's nuclear program issue, diplomacy and elections in depth, and conducted interviews with prominent Iranian figures.


See here for the summary of the international symposium "Promoting Active Particilpation of Women, Peace and Sustainable Development."

Click here to visit the website for the Sasakawa Middle East Islam Fund.