Diplomacy is the established method of influencing the decisions and behavior of foreign governments and peoples through dialogue, negotiation, and other measures short of war or violence. Although in traditional diplomatic practices governments were the only players being qualified to study and survey and implement foreign policies, emergence of such factors as economic growth, civil societies and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) led to para-diplomacy (´parallel diplomacy´) as it came on the scene of foreign policy.
Among instances of para-diplomacy, parliamentary diplomacy is even regarded as the most important and most efficient model of its kind at present age. Although certain classic thinkers of international relations doubted “parliamentary diplomacy” and called it ambiguous, national parliaments in the course of history gradually and inevitably were engaged in the issue to the extent that today, many theorists of international relations believe there is no doubt in the concept of parliamentary diplomacy. Despite certain doubts, international parliamentary activities are an undeniable reality and therefore, besides the traditional role of parliaments in formation of macro international relations such as ratification of the budget for the government’s foreign activities and approval of bilateral and multi-lateral foreign contracts, agreements and treaties with other governments.
Within this framework, the parliament speaker plays the major role. Exchange of visits and meetings and talks with foreign counterparts on issues of mutual interest, inking agreements and joint parliamentary statements, exchange of messages and correspondence, issuance of statements and so on is among the activities of the parliament speaker in the foreign policy domain.
To this end, the Islamic Republic of Iran parliament speakers have been playing a remarkable role with respect to the powerful status of the parliament. Their role went to the extent that in each period, many meetings and discussions with the parliamentary and non-parliamentary official visits and exchange visits with a large number of countries took place.
Following formation of international institutions over the past two centuries, multilateral diplomacy has turned into an undeniable reality in the scene of international relations.
Majority of scholars in international relations consider multilateralism as a final and organized form, which coordinates relations among three or more governments based on generalized behavioral principles; those are the principles which specify the suitable ground for a collection of actions. So, based on the needs and necessities, associations and inter-parliamentary communities gradually come to existence along with formation of inter-governmental institutions and organizations, emerging as key players in the parliamentary diplomacy.
Presently, many regional and international parliamentary associations and communities have been formed; a list of the most important of them which Iran’s parliament has an active role is as follows:
1. Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)
The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the oldest parliamentary international association being 125-year-old, is the first international institution to be established with the goal to put together representatives of parliaments of independent countries to play an effective role in international cooperation within the framework of parliamentary mechanisms.
This international parliamentary institution held its first session in 1889 in Paris under the auspices of Frederic Passy and William Randal, two founders of the Association, along with the presence of 11 members of parliaments from Italy, Belgium, Spain, Denmark, Hungary, the US and Liberia, 55 members of French parliament, and 28 members of the UK parliament. With the session held, the corner stone was laid for foundation of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), which now holds important status internationally.
Major activities of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)
The Inter-Parliamentary Union, based in Geneva, serving as hub of parliamentary dialogue, has since establishment been moving in line with consolidation of peace and promotion of cooperation among nations and establishment of the representative institutions. They have been active in six international domains such as expansion of parliamentary democracy, human rights and humanitarian law, international peace and security, women participation in politics, sustainable development and education. The Inter-Parliamentary Union also supports efforts and activities of the United Nations through close cooperation with them within framework of common goals with the UN. The IPU has 164 members.
Membership of the Islamic Parliament of Iran in the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)
For the first time ever Iran’s National Parliamentary Council became member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in the 1950s and in the year 1966 it hosted the IPU 55th meeting.
After victory of the Islamic Revolution of Iran, the Inter-Parliamentary Group of the Islamic Parliament of Iran was formed and took part in the meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in 1981. In 1983, the law “Statute of the Parliamentary Group of the Islamic Republic of Iran as an IPU member” was ratified in the Islamic Parliament of Iran. Based on the law of statute, members of the Inter-Parliamentary Group, comprising 15 persons, are elected by the general assembly of the parliament members are elected for a two year period and are responsible of making policies for the Inter-Parliamentary Group.
The Inter-Parliamentary Union holds two general assembly sessions twice a year, i.e. spring and fall, in which the Islamic Parliament of Iran has always had active presence.
2. Parliamentary Union of the OIC Member States (PUIC)
The first meeting of the representatives of the OIC Member States was held in Madrid (March 1995) on an invitation by the IPU. The participants underlined the need for formation of the OIC Member States (PUIC)
The participant countries underlined the need for formation of PUIC and agreed that their proposals will be raised in the next session in the course of the 94th Inter-Parliamentary session in Bucharest.
Hence, the second “meeting of members of Muslim parliaments” was held in Bucharest on an initiative by the Inter-Parliamentary Group of the Islamic Republic of Iran in presence of representatives of 12 Muslim states. Subsequently the third meeting was held in Istanbul in April 1996 due to efforts of the Iranian group one day before the 95th IPU session with the presence of envoys from parliaments of 10 Muslim countries and the presence of the Secretary General of the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union.
Following the efforts by Iran Inter-Parliamentary Group two more sessions were held in Beijing in September 1996 on the sidelines of the 96th IPU session and in the second meeting the participants agreed to take part in the first session of the Planning Committee of the Parliamentary Union of the OIC Member States (PUIC) in Tehran in November 1996.
Parliament representatives from Iran, Indonesia, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Palestine, Pakistan and Bangladesh were present in the Planning Committee meeting, held in Tehran in November 1996. The meeting served as the initial core of establishment of the PUIC. The members approved draft statute of the Union, which referred to Tehran as the Union Headquarters. The participants agreed to hold the first “Development Conference of the parliaments of Islamic countries” in Tehran or Islamabad.
However, to have comprehensive partnership of all the parliaments of Islamic countries in establishment of the Union, Kuwaiti parliament suggested holding a meeting with presence of all parliaments of the member countries of the Organization of Islamic Conference. On this basis Islamic Parliament of Iran held a session, entitled “The Comprehensive Meeting of the Coordination Committee of the Legislative and Consultative Parliamentary Union of Muslim countries”, from November 14-15, 1998, in which parliament deputies from 39 member countries of the OIC had taken part. The draft statute of association of the Inter-Parliamentary Union of the OIC members was endorsed by the participants and its final approval was planned to take place during the first conference with presence of all parliaments of the OIC member countries.
Hence, the Parliamentary Union of the OIC Member States (PUIC) held its first session in Tehran from June 15-17, 1999, with Iran’s then parliament speaker Hojjatolesalm Ali-Akbar Nateq-Nouri chairing it. More than 200 members, advisors and experts from parliaments of 45 member countries of the OIC, including 18 Parliament speakers, eight vice-speakers, secretary general of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), and Secretary General of the Arab Inter-parliamentary Union (AIPU) and five countries and international organizations serving as supervisors were present in the meeting. During this conference, the statute of the Union was finally endorsed and the PUIC was officially established.
Since its establishment the PUIC has held 10 conferences of the speakers of parliament, 17 meetings of the general committees (Councils), 33 executive committee meetings, five meetings of the Palestine Committee, three permanent committee sessions and three meetings of the female deputies of the PUIC members.
The statute of the PUIC was revised 10 years later at the second extraordinary conference of the Union (Abu Dhabi, January 2010 and there were amendments in it. Among the terminologies undergoing amendment were name of the Union which was changed following change in the name of the Organization of Islamic Conference to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. The name of the Union was changed hence to Parliamentary Union of the OIC Member States (PUIC).
3. Asian Parliaments Assembly (APA)
The Asian Parliaments Assembly convened for the first time in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on September 1999 on the initiative of Bangladesh’s parliament and logistic support of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Envoys from parliaments of 31 Asian countries, including Iran’s Islamic Parliament, had taken part in the meeting. During this meeting, the establishment of the Association of Asian Parliaments for Peace (AAPP) was approved.
The Second AAPP General Assembly was held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on November 5-10, 2000, with the motto “Establishment of Sustainable Peace and Friendship in the Next Millennium, the Cause of Representatives of Asian Parliaments.” Representatives from 27 Asian countries had taken part in the meeting.
The Third AAPP General Assembly was held in Beijing and Chongqing on April 16-19, 2002, with the theme “Peace and Progress in Asia”, attended by representatives of parliament from 31 Asian countries.
The Fourth AAPP General Assembly was held in Manila, Philippines on August 31 - September 4, 2003, with the motto of “100 Years of Peace in Asia”, attended by representatives of parliaments from 36 Asian countries.
The Fifth AAPP General Assembly was held in Islamabad, Pakistan on November 29 – December 3, 2004. The motto of the meeting was “Prospect of Peace in Asia and Development through Inter-Parliamentary Dialogue and Cooperation” and representatives of parliament from 28 Asian countries had taken part in the meeting.
The Sixth AAPP General Assembly was held in Pattaya, Kingdom of Thailand in 2005. Representatives of parliaments of 39 Asian countries took part in the meeting. On a proposal by the Head of the Iranian Delegation, Hojjatoleslam Seyed Mohammad-Hossein Abutorabifard, the Islamic Parliament of Iran was selected as the host of the 7th meeting.
The Seventh AAPP General Assembly, with the motto of “Asian Solidarity for Peace and Justice”, and the First APA Plenary were held in Tehran and hosted by the Islamic Parliament of Iran from 12 to 14 November 2006. The then Speaker of the Islamic Parliament of Iran, Dr. Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel chaired the meeting, attended by speakers and representatives of parliaments of 40 Asian states.
The 7th AAPP General Assembly marks a turning point in history of the Association because in light of the endeavors of Islamic Parliament of Iran, especially Vice-Speaker of the Parliament, Hojjatoleslam Seyed Mohammad Hassan Abutorabifard, the meeting endorsed the resolution of the 4th AAPP, which underlined the need for turning the AAPP into “Asian Parliaments Assembly” (APA). The Association’s statute was approved and the first APA session, chaired by the then Speaker of the Islamic Parliament of Iran, Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel.
The second APA meeting was held in Tehran in November 2007, chaired by Dr. Haddad-Adel with participation of parliaments of 31 member countries. The meeting endorsed eight key documents, including the APA executive by-law.
The next meetings were held as follows:
The third meeting: Jakarta, Indonesia, December 2008
The fourth meeting: Bandung, Indonesia, December 2009
The fifth meeting: Damascus, Syria, December 2010
The sixth meeting: Islamabad, Pakistan, December 2013
The seventh meeting: Lahore, Pakistan, December 2014
The eighth meeting: Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, December 2015
Presently, parliaments of 41 Asian countries are members of the APA along with 10 regional and international organizations and associations serving as supervisory members of the Association. The APA secretariat is in Tehran.
4. Parliamentary Assembly of the Economic Cooperation Organization (PAECO)
The idea for establishment of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Economic Cooperation Organization (PAECO) was for the first ever suggested in March 2012 by the then Speaker of Pakistan's National Assembly Fahmida Mirza. She considered establishment of the PAECO in line with the ECO aspirations for consolidation of diversified cooperation among the ECO members, noting that the Assembly can play an important role in the ECO region.
To this end, on the invitation of Pakistan’s parliament, the first PAECO meeting was held in Islamabad, Pakistan, in September 2012 with participation of representatives from parliaments of Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Turkey. The meeting compiled the draft of the charter of the Assembly and prepared it for final endorsement. Then speakers of the parliaments of Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Tajikistan and Turkey and vice-speaker of Afghanistan endorsed the 11-point charter of the Assembly at the first PAECO, held in Islamabad, Pakistan, in February 2012, thus the PAECO was officially established.
Based on the resolution of the first PAECO assembly, Afghanistan parliament was selected as the host of the second general assembly. The second general assembly has not yet been held due to internal developments in Afghanistan. The PAECO secretariat is in Islamabad.
5. Other regional and international parliamentary associations
Besides the afore-mentioned parliamentary unions and communities, the Islamic Parliament of Iran has always had active participation in certain other specialized parliamentary associations, held in many countries. The associations are as follows:
Asia-Pacific Parliamentarians’ Conference on Environment & Development (APPCED)
Asia-Pacific Parliamentarians’ Conference on Population & Development
Asia-Pacific Parliamentarians’ Conference for Education
World Organization of Parliamentarians for campaign against corruption
Parliamentary Conference on World Trade Organization
Parliamentary Conference on Information Technology
6. Parliamentary Conference on Support for People of Palestine