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FarsiNet's Iran News
December 1997, Week 2

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U.S. Welcomes most Islamic Summit Results
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States Friday welcomed what it called the moderate tone of the resolutions produced this week by a summit of Islamic states in Iran.

``On the basis of what we have seen, we give a cautious welcome to a moderate tone that seems to have been struck in some, if not all, of the resolutions,'' State Department deputy spokesman James Foley told reporters.

``We welcome, for instance, the call for cooperation, dialogue and positive understanding among cultures and religions, and the rejection of the ideology of confrontation,'' he said.

``We also support the OIC's (Organization of Islamic Countries) condemnation of terrorism in all forms and methods, and the statement that the killing of innocent people is forbidden in Islam (and) would expect that all OIC members would reject attacks on civilians wherever they occur and for whatever reason that they may be carried out,'' he said.

Foley said Washington also supported the OIC's proposal for continuation of a campaign against international terrorism and ''noted with interest'' the group's reference to full respect for the honor and rights of Muslim women.

However, he said the United States expected the conference to openly support the American-mediated Middle East peace process, as previous conferences have done, and he expressed disappointment that that was not in the final declaration.

The United States rejected the call by the 55-member OIC for lifting sanctions on Libya but Foley noted that the conference did not make a similar appeal on behalf of Iraq.

Asked about news reports that OIC leaders also blasted Israel for its occupation of Arab land, ``expansionist policies'' and ``state terrorism,'' Foley said U.S. officials were not sure that was the case because they do not yet have all the texts from the conference.

``If it is true, of course we would ... reject such a characterization of Israel,'' he said.

The deputy spokesman said the analysis was based on the text issued by the conference and not on conversations with U.S. friends and allies who attended the meeting in Tehran. As a result, the U.S. judgments could not be called definitive, he said.

He attributed the generally moderate tone of the final declaration to close U.S. friends in the Arab world. What the outcome says about Iran is uncertain, he said.

``I think you'd have to ask the Iranians whether they were forced as hosts of the conference to adjust to achieve to consensus, or whether this represents a change of heart and a reflection of their professed desire to have more good neighborly relations in the region,'' he said.

Isreli Firm Doing Business With Iran

JERUSALEM -XINHUA - Iran, which regards Israel as an enemy, has been purchasing medical and hi-tech equipment through subsidiaries of Israeli companies in Europe over the last two years, according to a report of today's Jerusalem Post.

The report quoted Israeli industry sources as saying that the equipment has been ordered by Iranian officials from Israeli companies, such as Salad, a trading company which was established to conduct trade with Iranian companies in fields ranging from farming to communications.

The report noted that business circles close to Israel's trade with Iran estimate the annual volume at a nine-digit figure in U.S. dollars.

Ilan Traitle, director-general of the Israel-based Medent company, said that "the Iranians are interested in everything that you can offer them."

Traitle said Medent trades with Iran through a third country, which he would not name. He said that contacts with Iran were launched during last June's Akema trade show in Frankfurt of Germany.

Meanwhile, Israeli officials are probing the possibility of settling Israel's debt worth 1 billion U.S. dollars owned to Iran in oil dealings decades ago, by having Russian companies pay the debt. Israel would in turn buy Russian natural gas and invest in Russia.

Iran has quietly agreed to arbitration on the issue with the help of Germany. Israeli officials, particularly National Infrastructure Minister Ariel Sharon, hope that an agreement with Teheran could lead to the Islamic republic moderating its stance toward Israel.

Earlier this week, Israel Radio reported that a group of 16 Israeli agriculture experts secretly visited Iran and met with its deputy agriculture minister. Their visit reportedly came following Iranian approaches to European subsidiaries of Israeli companies in search of irrigation equipment and spare parts for tractors and combines imported from Israel in the 1970s.

Islamic Summit Closes after Last-Minute Delays
TEHRAN, (Reuters) - An Islamic summit conference in Iran closed on Thursday after last-minute differences delayed adoption of a final declaration by more than five hours.

Verses from the Koran marked the close of the three-day summit after a final blast at Israel by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, chairman of the Saudi-based Organisation of the Islamic Conference for the next three years.

Khatami, whose chairmanship of the summit marked his international debut, said in a closing address he was delighted that ``significant resolutions decisively condemning the Zionist regime for its policies were adopted.''

Turkish President Suleyman Demirel and some other heads of the 55 African, Arab and Asian delegations who attended the conference had already left for home.

But many delayed their departure beyond their scheduled flight times and the conference chamber built for the summit was packed.

Those who stayed on to hear the Tehran Declaration read out included Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, Syria President Hafez al-Assad, Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al- Bashir, Crown Prince Hassan of Jordan and Iraq's Deputy President Taha Yassin Ramadan.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was also present. In the closing hours of the triennial summit, differences arose over the venue for the next conference in the year 2000, the need for a foreign ministers' meeting in March, and the wording of a reference to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Delegates agreed to hold the next summit in the Gulf state of Qatar, venue of a recent U.S.-backed Middle East economic conference which was widely boycotted by Arab states over the participation of Israel.

Iran Questions Sincerity of U.S. Dialogue Offer
TEHRAN(Reuters) - A senior Iranian official on Thursday questioned the sincerity of a U.S. offer of dialogue with Iran and said Washington must first change its attitude.

``We believe these are not new statements or new policies,'' Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told CNN television at an Islamic summit in Tehran, when asked about comments by a State Department spokesman.

``We believe what needs to be changed is the American attitude with regard to the Islamic republic of Iran and with regard to the Islamic world in general,'' Zarif said.

But leaving the door open to a possible dialogue, he added with a smile: ``Any indications of a real change in the attitude will be seriously considered here.''

State Department deputy spokesman Jim Foley had said on Tuesday that Washington had no hostility to the Moslem world and wanted to talk to Tehran.

``We want to have a dialogue with Iran...Our only stipulation is that such a dialogue take place with an authorised representative of the government,'' he said.

The United States broke off diplomatic relations with Iran after Islamic students occupied the U.S. embassy in 1979 and took diplomats hostage, holding 52 of them for 444 days.

Washington froze Iranian assets, some of which have still not been released. The U.S. Congress last year imposed unilateral sanctions on any country whose companies invest more than $20 million a year in Iran's oil and gas industry.

Both countries accuse each other of sponsoring acts of terrorism. Washington additionally demands that Iran drop its support for groups hostile to Arab-Israeli peace negotiations and accuses Tehran of seeking weapons of mass destruction.

Iran still blames the United States for a 1953 coup which ousted the elected prime minister and restored the Shah, and for supporting the former monarch against the Islamic revolution.

Muslim Summit Assails U.S. Sanctions Law
TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) - Leaders at an Islamic summit in Tehran Thursday attacked a U.S. law that seeks to punish non-American companies doing business with Iran and Libya.

A draft final declaration said the 55 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference reject ``unilateralism and extraterritorial application of domestic law and urge all states to consider the so-called D'Amato law as null and void.''

The Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, whose passage in August 1996 drew severe criticism from Washington's European and Asian allies, has yet to be enforced.

The United States, which has branded Iran and Libya rogue states for their alleged support of international terrorism, had already banned U.S. firms from doing business with them.

Last year's legislation, known as the D'Amato law after its author, New York Republican Sen. Alphonse D'Amato, seeks to punish non-American companies that sign deals worth more than $20 million a year in the energy industries of Iran or Libya.

It is being tested by a $2 billion natural gas agreement Iran signed in September with a consortium of French, Malaysian and Russian energy firms.

Muslim leaders due to adopt the Tehran Declaration at the end of their three-day summit Thursday also stressed ``the need for coordination among member-states to enhance their role and participation in the global economic system and the international economic decision-making processes.''

Iraqi Deputy President Meets Iranian President
TEHRAN, (Reuters) - Iranian President Mohammad Khatami met Iraqi Deputy President Taha Yassin Ramadan on Thursday, the highest-level contact between the two countries since the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

Witnesses said the two men began what was scheduled to be a half-hour meeting on the sidelines of an Islamic summit in Tehran.

Iranian satire is no laughing matter
By Paul Taylor
TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) - Publishing satire in Iran is no laughing matter.

``There are certain red lines, which run much closer to the journalist in a country like Iran which has witnessed a religious revolution,'' said Kiumars Saberi, publisher of the satirical weekly magazine Golagha (Mr. Flower).

The written and unwritten rules mean that readers often have to read between the lines to get the joke. No sex, no personal abuse and -- crucially in this Islamic republic -- no cartoons of mullahs, the Shi'ite Muslim clergymen who have held power since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini led the Islamic revolution to victory in 1979.

For Saberi, the decision not to lampoon the clergy is a matter of conviction rather than law.

``We must pay attention to the fact that we had an Islamic revolution and we have to be committed to the fundamentals of Islam,'' he told Reuters in an interview at Golagha's high-tech, marble-floored office in middle-class north Tehran.

But his magazine is not above having a laugh at the bombastic anti-Western rhetoric of the Iranian political leadership. This week's edition, for example, congratulates the Iranian soccer team for defying ``the loudspeakers of global arrogance'' -- a code-phrase for the Western media -- by reaching the World Cup finals.

While the men in turbans escape caricature, Vice-President Hassan Habibi, the government's highest ranking layman, bears the brunt of Golagha's good-natured satire of state incompetence and bureaucracy.

In swipes at graft, contractors are depicted arriving at Tehran city hall on bicycles and leaving in Mercedes limousines and the same imagery is used for newly elected parliamentarians and their outgoing predecessors.

Saberi played an active part in the revolution and was an aide to senior Islamic politicians including the current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, before starting a daily satirical column in Ettelaat newspaper in 1984. He was also an adviser for eight years to then Culture Minister Mohammad Khatami, the relatively liberal clergyman who was elected president in an upset landslide last May.

SELF-CENSORSHIP Those connections afford Saberi some protection, but he admits he applies self-censorship to avoid antagonizing the hardline Muslim street gangs that have attacked some magazines and thrown their computers out of windows.

``I have been one of the servants of the revolution and I still make satire from that standpoint. I'm not a dissident or an opponent,'' he said, adding that Golagha is not meant to be subversive. ``Some of our intellectuals criticize Golagha as just a safety valve for society to let off steam. But a valve is there to prevent an explosion, so what's wrong with that?''

Golagha, which sells 100,000 copies a week, fell foul of Khatami's hardline successor as culture and Islamic guidance minister, Mustafa Mir-Salim, who declared that the basis of satire was poking fun at people and Islam did not allow that.

``When the minister of guidance says that sort of thing, then we're in trouble,'' Saberi said.

A prominent hard-liner, Mohsen Rafiqdoust, head of the giant state-affiliated Foundation for the Deprived and the War Disabled, sued Golagha for libel. But a court dismissed the case with a mild slap on the wrist for Saberi.

The judge's gavel is displayed as a trophy in the entrance to his office, along with the paraphenalia of Shagholam, the key character in Golagha. A tea-boy with a bushy Persian mustache, traditional pointed slippers, baggy pants and a felt tarbush hat, Shagholam symbolizes the long-suffering ordinary Iranian, trying to stay cheerful as the government strips him to repay the national debt.

Saberi says he prefers ``constructive humor'' to what he sees as the destructive satire, sexual innuendo and caustic anti-clericalism of his Western counterparts.

He side-stepped the controversy over Khomeini's 1989 death sentence on British author Salman Rushdie by asking: ``What sort of question is that to ask a satirist?''

But he had a ready recipe for improving non-existent relations between Iran and the United States: ``The day (humorist) Art Buchwald is elected president of the United States and I am elected president of Iran, there'll be no more problems between our countries.''

U.S. Signals Support for Iranian Moderates in Power Struggle
WASHINGTON (AP) The Clinton administration is signaling its support for Iranian President Mohammad Khatami in what appears to be a growing power struggle with old guard clerics who are deeply hostile to the West.

The administration responded quickly on Tuesday to Khatami's call for the "establishment of dialogues" to achieve "deep-rooted understanding of the cultural and moral dimensions of other societies."

State Department spokesman James Foley replied by saying the United States would "welcome and support the idea of an open dialogue between different cultures and civilizations."

While repeating U.S. opposition to Iran's policies in three key areas, Foley also said the United States does not seek to change the nature of the Iranian regime and reaffirmed American willingness to open talks with Iran on political issues.

Foley denied his remarks constituted a policy shift, but Richard Murphy, a former assistant secretary of state, said the comments reflected an important change of emphasis.

"We're coming out on the side of dialogue and also, in effect, taking sides in the power struggle in Tehran," Murphy said in a telephone interview.

Murphy, who served as the top Middle East aide to President Reagan, said the administration seems to be pursuing a more nuanced policy toward Iran as opposed to the usual "ritualistic incantations" about Iran's policies that Washington finds offensive.

"I'm glad we're saying these things. ... There is real ferment in Iran. I think it's very good that Washington has that in mind," Murphy said.

The fissures at the top level in Iran were dramatized in separate speeches at the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit in Tehran. Khatami's comments followed a strident attack on the West by Iran's spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Khamenei condemned the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf and attacked Western culture, which he said was driving people toward materialism and transforming money, gluttony and carnal desires into the greatest aspirations.

Foley said Khatami has been trying to emphasize "the commonality of world civilization and of world values. We hope that those kinds of remarks begin to be reflected also in the foreign policy sphere, in the way nations deal with each other on a state-to-state level."

The tone of Foley's comments suggested a shift away from the usual focus on American concerns about Iran's nuclear weapons development, its sponsorship of terrorism and its efforts to undermine the Middle East peace process concerns that he repeated.

He also reaffirmed U.S. interest in a dialogue with Iran, provided it is carried out with authorized representatives of the Tehran government. In a rare acknowledgment, Foley also allowed for the possibility that Iran may have issues it wants to raise with the United States.

Khatami has been the subject of considerable attention here since his election in May. At the time, President Clinton called the election of a leader with more moderate credentials "interesting and hopeful."

But U.S. officials said they have detected no movement in Iran on the areas of American concern since Khatami's inauguration in August. They also noted that under Iran's system, Khatami is subservient to radical clerics on national security issues.

Iran's leaders split on attitude toward West
(CNN) -- A 55-nation Islamic summit opened in Tehran on Tuesday with leaders from the host country displaying opposite views toward Western nations, specifically Iran's sworn enemy, the United States. Meantime, U.S. ally Saudi Arabia urged Muslim leaders to reject Islamic militancy and said it would be willing to mediate between Tehran and Washington.

At the start of the three-day Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a Muslim clergyman, launched a blistering attack on the West as materialistic, money-seeking, gluttonous and carnal.

He also targeted what he called "unethical" Western efforts to destroy Iran's Islamic revolution. "This ethical quagmire will ... engulf the present Western civilization and wipe it out," Khamenei said.

In contrast, President Mohammad Khatami, a reformer considered a moderate in the Iranian context, set a tone of tolerance and understanding toward the West. He said an Islamic society and its Western counterpart were "not necessarily in conflict. ... This is why we should never be oblivious to judicious acquisition of the positive accomplishments of the Western civil society." "Without a doubt, we will succeed in moving forward, only if we have the capacity to reap the benefit of positive, scientific and social accomplishments of Western civilization," said Khatami. Iran's president, elected in May, also spoke of his vision for a new Iran, based on human rights and the rule of law. In a pointed message to hard-liners inside Iran -- and those who rule unopposed across the Muslim world -- Khatami said tyranny has no place. "Citizens of the Islamic civil society enjoy the right to determine their own destiny, supervise their government and hold it accountable. The government in such a society is the servant of the people and not their master."

Khatami called for a pact to enable Gulf nations to defend themselves without relying on "foreign forces." Tehran has long demanded the removal of U.S. and other Western forces which provide military help to Arab states against perceived threats from Iran and Iraq.

"In the sensitive and strategic region of the Persian Gulf, the regional states themselves should undertake to preserve security and peace," he said. "The presence of foreign forces and armada... serves not only as a source of tension and insecurity but also of tragic environmental consequences."

Khamenei echoed Khatami's remarks in shriller language. "The entire world is faced with insecurity," he said, because of "the presence of foreign warships and more importantly the U.S. military muscle flexing in the Persian Gulf." The Western military umbrella in the region was reinforced after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and the 1990-91 Gulf crisis. Saudi Arabia, among others, has shown no interest in ridding the region of Western forces and on Tuesday the highest-ranking Saudi official at the Tehran conference, Crown Prince Abdullah, urged his summit partners to turn away from Islamic militancy.

"The Muslim world is still suffering from a state of fragmentation and disruption and is going through the worst as a result of extensive militancy which has shed innocent Muslim blood in the name of Islam," he said in a speech. "The slogans raised by these militants are outrageous and have nothing in common with Islam and its spirit of justice and tolerance," the Saudi heir apparent said in remarks released ahead of delivery.

Prince Abdullah made no direct criticism of summit host Iran. Saudi Arabia has repeatedly told its Gulf Arab partners to be cautious of Iran's military and political ambitions. It has previously accused Tehran of meddling in its internal affairs. Iran denies the charge.

In separate remarks, Abdullah said Saudi Arabia would be willing to take on a mediation role to help Iran and the United States solve their differences. "There is nothing that will make us more happy than to see this sensitive part of the world enjoy stability, security and prosperity ... if the United States asks us we will not hesitate to contribute to efforts to bring stability to the region," the official Saudi Press Agency quoted him as saying.

 

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