Iranian Christian Poetry based on the Gospels of John and Matthew

August 1998, Week 1

FarsiNet FarsiNews

U.S. Eases Immigration Rules to Boost `Wrestling Diplomacy' With Iran August 7
Former US Coach Sampson to Go Local August 6
Iran to boost exports, improve foreign exchange August 6
House Cuts Nuclear Money Over Iran August 4
Banned newspaper keeps publishing under new name August 3
Iran publisher found guilty of press violations August 2

 

U.S. Eases Immigration Rules to Boost `Wrestling Diplomacy' With Iran
By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
After having warmly welcomed a U.S. wrestling team to Tehran, Iranians were incensed when a dozen of their own wrestlers landed in Chicago last April only to be promptly fingerprinted and photographed at the airport by immigration officers.

The outrage swelled in June when seven visiting Iranian scholars, including a 79-year-old poetry professor, were detained for two hours on arrival in New York and given the same treatment.

Since then, the United States has quietly modified a 1991 policy that required immigration officers to fingerprint first-time visitors from Iran, Iraq, Libya and Sudan -- countries that the U.S. government accuses of supporting terrorism. In a little-noticed regulation published July 17 in the Federal Register, Attorney General Janet Reno, who oversees immigration officials, allowed exemptions for "certain nonimmigrants" from the four countries "when such action is deemed to be in the interest of foreign policy or national security."

In practice, officials said, the move is aimed at promoting the "wrestling diplomacy" that has developed between the United States and Iran since the two governments began making overtures toward each other earlier this year. So far, the exemption has been invoked twice. The first time was last month when another Iranian wrestling squad arrived in New York a few days after the rule took effect to participate in the Goodwill Games. The second was on Tuesday when an Iranian youth wrestling team flew in for a tournament in Nevada.

"We wanted to facilitate these people-to-people contacts in a way that wouldn't damage our own national security interests," a State Department official said. The new policy "stems from a desire to be courteous to people we said we would welcome." It was formulated after Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright intervened personally with Reno, officials said.

The wrestling diplomacy is part of a fitful rapprochement between nations that have had no diplomatic relations since November 1979, when Iranian militants took 52 Americans hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held most of them for 444 days. But the latest gestures are stirring the same sort of tensions within Iran -- between hard-line followers of the country's Islamic spiritual leader on one side and a more moderate government on the other -- that led to the embassy seizure.

The United States still lists Iran as the world's top "state sponsor of terrorism." The alleged mastermind of a 1996 bombing that killed 19 U.S. airmen in Saudi Arabia has been reported living in Iran under governm ent protection. And U.S. officials last month accused Iran of concealing a ballistic missile program.

Yet, the Clinton administration still wants to explore the Iranian overtures and give substance to its own calls for reconciliation.

The conciliatory moves started in January when President Mohammed Khatemi, a moderate elected last year, ex pressed regret for the hostage-taking and called for breaking down "the walls of mistrust" between the two countries through exchanges of cultural and sports delegations.

But his chief adversary, "supreme leader" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, rejected any rapprochement with the "Grea t Satan," as radical Iranian clerics have dubbed the United States. In April, he ordered a "disavowal of in fidels" demonstration against America and Israel and asked publicly, "How can the Iranian nation and govern ment reach out its hand toward an enemy who seeks to strike it with a heart full of bitterness?"

In a sermon last week, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, a senior hard-line cleric, warned the West not to support K hatemi and expressed rancor toward the United States in religious terms. "As long as America is our enemy, the Koran does not let us be friends with that country," he said.

In this climate, the U.S. fingerprinting had the unintended effect of playing into the hands of the hard-li ners, who were using the incidents to attack rapprochement.

Even the Khatemi government complained that the first group of wrestlers and the scholars had been "treated like criminals" and threatened to halt the exchanges, said John Marks, president of Search for Common Grou nd, a private group in Washington that has been promoting ties between the two countries.

Now that the new regulation has defused those tensions, the next test of wrestling diplomacy is set for Sep tember, when a U.S. team is scheduled to compete in a world freestyle tournament in Tehran. U.S. officials remain wary of the possibility that, as in the embassy takeover nearly two decades ago, hard-liners could t ake some action to derail U.S.-Iranian relations.

"It seems pretty clear to us," said one State Department official, "that there are people in Iran who, for their own mostly domestic political reasons, don't particularly want better relations with the United State s."

Former US Coach Sampson to Go Local
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) -- Steve Sampson, who coached the United States to a last-place finish in the World Cup and then quit, say s his next job in soccer will be at the local level.

Sampson said Wednesday that he will become technical director of the Las Virgenes Soccer Club in Westlake Village. The club's board of directors has unanimously approved Sampson's hiring, but he has yet to sign a contract.

Sampson is also seeking to be hired as director of the U.S. Soccer Federation's Project 2010, whose aim is to have the Americans win the World Cup within 12 years,

Sampson's affiliation with the Las Virgenes Club is an outgrowth of his original idea of starting a youth team near his Agoura Hills home. After discussion with Las Virgenes officials, he decided it would be better to work with an existing club.

``I contacted them about six months ago,'' Sampson said. ``This was underway well in advance of the World Cup. If I stayed on as U.S. coach, it would allow me a way to maintain my sharpness as a coach during the week, because you get very little time to coach with the national team.''

Sampson resigned as U.S. coach on June 29 after the Americans went 0-3 in the World Cup, finishing last in the 32-nation field.

On Wednesday, Sampson joined Iran coach Jalal Talebi at a news conference, and USSF and Major League Soccer spokesmen said future games against Iran were likely. Iran upset the United States 2-1 at the tournament in France.

Iran to boost exports, improve foreign exchange
TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- A senior Iranian official said on Wednesday that Iran plans to encourage non-oil exports and improve the country's foreign exchange system in the first phase of the country's economic recovery programme.

The official Iranian News Agency IRNA also quoted Deputy President Mohammad Ali Najafi, who also heads the Plan and Budget Organisation, as saying that certain services "would be entrusted to the private sector and to the cooperatives."

"Deputy President and head of Plan and Budget Organisation of Iran Najafi told reporters here today that under phase one of the national economic restructuring, non-oil exports would be encouraged and foreign exchange system would be improved," IRNA reported.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami on Sunday presented the broad outlines of his economic recovery programme, but he said detailed policies would have to wait. Khatami said in a 68-minute address to the nation that Najafi would announce the executive programmes to implement these policies.

Irans economy remains mired in stagnation, with unemployment and inflation both persistently high. Independent analysts put both figures at around 20 percent, ahead of official estimates.

IRNA did not say how the foreign exchange system would be improved.

Foreign analysts have urged Iran to move toward unification of its multiple exchange rates, something which Khatami said would not be considered for another 18 months.

Najafi said the cabinet had also adopted measures for speeding up issue of non-oil export licenses at the Export Promotion Centre of Iran and also at the general trade department.

Food processing industries and packing of agricultural products would have priority to receiving banking facilities, he said.

IRNA also quoted Deputy Industry Minister Hossein Naji as saying that $580 million in credits had been allocated to improve the country's industries this year, down from $3.5 billion allocated for the same purpose last year.

House Cuts Nuclear Money Over Iran
By Jim Abrams
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House voted Monday to cut U.S. voluntary contributions to the International Atomic Energy Agency by the amount the agency spends on nuclear energy projects in Iran.

The measure, which passed 405-13, also tells the Secretary of State to undertake an annual review and report to Congress on the IAEA's programs to ensure they are in line with U.S. nuclear non-proliferation policies.

Supporters pointed in particular to IAEA assistance to Iran in its construction of the Bushehr nuclear power plant. The agency works to ensure the safety of power plants.

``It is ludicrous for the United States to support in any way a plant even indirectly which could pose a threat to the United States and to stability in the Middle East,'' said Rep. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., the chief sponsor.

Rep. Ben Gilman, R-N.Y., chairman of the House International Relations Committee, said the IAEA has spent $1.5 million since 1995 to assist Iran's nuclear energy program. He said Iran plans to have three nuclear plants operating by 2015, a step the United States opposes because of concerns that it would parallel promotion of Iran's nuclear weapons program.

The ranking Democrat on the international relations panel, Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, opposed the measure, saying it would ``make the IAEA less effective in meeting its responsibilities for international safety and security.''

``This bill is not going to stop, it is not going to slow, Iran's civilian nuclear power reactor program,'' he said. ``It will not make Iran's nuclear fa cilities any safer, it will not prevent the troublesome Bushehr facilities from being developed.''

The bill has yet to be considered by the Senate.

The House also approved, 407-6, a resolution finding Iraq ``in material and unacceptable breach'' of its international obligations as outlined by the U.N . Security Council after the 1991 Gulf War.

Gilman said the non-binding resolution was in response to ``the mounting evidence that Iraq continues to defy the decisions of the U.N. Security Council with regard to its weapons of mass destruction.''

Banned newspaper keeps publishing under new name
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- A pro-democracy newspaper defied two orders to shut down and began publishing under a new name Sunday, setting the stage for a clash with powerful hard-liners opposed to Iran's reformist president.

The paper's editor, Mahmoud Shams, said it was published under the name Aftab'e Emrooz, or The Sun Today, with the lead story an account of an attack Saturday on the newspaper's offices by thugs believed tied to ultra-conservative politicians.

Shams told The Associated Press the paper was similar to Tous, which the Justice Department ordered closed Saturday. Tous, named after a historic town, began publication without missing an issue when its predecessor, Jameah, was ordered shut down July 25.

The papers gained popularity, especially among the young, for frank criticism and analyses of Iranian politics. But they angered ultra-conservatives who were the focus of the criticisms.

The papers' defiance placed it at the center of a power struggle between the deeply unpopular hard-liners and the popular President Mohammad Khatami.

The judiciary has the power to close down the paper. But the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, run by a Khatami loyalist, issues permits for newspapers and has given Shams' publication a new permit each time it has been renamed.

Hours after Tous was ordered closed, Islamic Guidance officials urged judicial authorities to allow the paper to keep publishing, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

"Something should be done to enable this newspaper to continue publication," the news agency quoted the ministry as saying in a letter to the judiciary.

Shortly before the ban on Tous was served Saturday, militants assaulted the paper's editor and threatened to kill him. They also assaulted two Associated Press reporters who arrived on the scene.

The protesters told other reporters they did not assault any journalists and were not affiliated with any group, but such militants are believed to have powerful backers among hard-liners.

Saying he felt "there is a threat against our lives," Shams said Sunday the paper bought life and health insurance for all its employees after the attack. The policies would pay $16,650 if any employee dies.

In Iran, employers provide health insurance but rarely life insurance for their employees.

On Sunday, the daily Tehran Times said in an editorial that there should be an immediate investigation into who carried out Saturday's attack.

"The law should not be allowed to be taken into hands by those who want to impose their own will by force," the English-language paper said.

The Justice Department justified its ban of the newspaper by citing "several articles of the press law," IRNA said. It gave no details.

The newspaper also angered hard-liners because it questioned the authority of Iran's spiritual guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The paper asked how an unelected person could wield more power than the president, who won more than 20 million votes in last year's elections.

In a Friday sermon, Iran's chief judge, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, attacked Ataollah Mohajerani, the minister of culture and Islamic guidance, for granting licenses to "newspapers that have sprouted like mushrooms and write whatever they want."

"The people will not tolerate such newspapers," he warned. Tous replied with a column Saturday that said, "Mr. Yazdi, please calm down."

Iran publisher found guilty of press violations
TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- A court on Monday found the publisher of a journalists' newspaper guilty of violating press regulations after the weekly printed a letter attacking Iran's late spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeinei.

Justice Department Secretary Saeed Nobari said a press court found cleric Mohammadreza Zaeri, publisher of the weekly Khaneh (House), guilty but released him after he paid 20 million rials ($6,700). Nobari said the sentence was relatively light because of Zaeri's record and an apology to the public.

Khaneh on July 15 published an anonymous letter criticizing Khomeini for, among other things, issuing a death edict against the British author Salman Rushdie.

"Shall I follow someone who has turned Iran into an international terrorist by issuing a death sentence for Salman Rushdie?" it said.

It also said Khomeini's name evoked the "horrors of the eight-year (1980-88) war with Iraq and the thousands of innocent youngsters killed in that war."

Iran's press law says a publication can have its licence revoked for insulting senior clergy.

Khaneh is the organ of the House For Young Journalists, a press society affiliated to the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.

Since the election of moderate President Mohammad Khatami last year, Iran's newspapers have experienced a renaissance, tackling subjects that were formally taboo and gaining wide popularity with the public.

Khatami's conservative opponents -- who still control key levers of power -- have complained about the new critical tone of moderate newspapers. Two reformist papers were recently banned.

 

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