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October 99, Week 4
|Popular Iranian Reformist on Trial||October 31|
|Khatami: U.S. Dominance Must End||October 30|
|Khatami Takes Issue With West||October 29|
|U.S. Spokesman Offers Iran Unconditional Talks||October 28|
|Tension Mounts as France Prepares for Iranian Visit||October 27|
|France Sets Border Checks to Stop Iranian Dissidents||October 27|
|Iranian President To Visit France||October 26|
|Iran Court Jails Cleric Over Protest Letter||October 25|
|Iran Radical Takes Message to Hardline Heartland||October 23|
|Iran Opposes U.S. Interference, Threat||October 22|
Popular Iranian Reformist on Trial
The Associated Press|
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates-In the latest chapter of a power struggle between hard-liners and Iran's president, a popular reformist allied with the president went on trial Saturday.
The prosecution of Abdollah Nouri, a middle-ranking cleric who runs a popular newspaper, is seen as a bid by hard-liners to get rid of him before February's elections for Iran's Majlis, or parliament. Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's allies including Nouri are expected to win if the elections are fair, and hard-liners are using the judiciary and other institutions they control to disqualify leading reformists from running.
Nouri, a former interior minister, is being tried in a special clerical court, said the official Islamic Republic News Agency, monitored in Dubai.
The charges he faces are some of the most serious ever brought against a senior politician in Iran's Islamic government. They include insulting Islamic sanctities and opposing the teachings of Iran's revered revolutionary leader, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, through his paper.
A 44-page indictment also charges him with publishing lies and advocating better ties with Iran's archenemies, the United States and Israel.
"This daily, has turned into a forum for presenting the ideas of several groups which are against the system, and a tool for attacking the Islamic revolution," public prosecutor Hojatoleslam Nikoonam said during Saturday's court session.
"How could you consider yourself a follower of the Imam, and yet portray the Imam as heretic?" he said to Nouri, referring to Ayatollah Khomeini, the agency said.
Hard-liners focused their attacks on Nouri after learning that reformist groups wanted him to contest the position of Majlis speaker. Hard-liner Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri has been the speaker of the 270-seat house since 1990.
At the heart of the power struggle are different visions of Islam. The hard-liners believe that political and social freedoms cannot exist under an Islamic system, while Khatami and his reformist allies say that religion cannot be an excuse to deny political and social freedoms.
More than half of Iran's population is under 16 years of age and chafing under Islamic restrictions that ban satellite TV antennas, dating, and most Western music and films.
Khatami: U.S. Dominance Must End
By Elaine Ganley|
Associated Press Writer
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami took a jab at the United States on Friday, saying that the time for superpowers and saber-rattling has passed.
The future of the world in the coming century depends on dialogue among equals, he told a U.N. ministerial gathering at the close of a three-day visit to France.
"World domination by one country can have disastrous consequences," Khatami said at a news conference later. "The time has passed that one country can impose its own views."
The moderate Iranian leader also stressed Iran's wish for "interaction with Western countries," but said the United States needs to change its attitude before relations between the two countries can get back on track.
Security was tight during Khatami's visit, the first to France by an Iranian leader since the 1979 Islamic revolution. However, Iranian opposition groups managed to stage several protests.
They unfurled a banner Friday reading "Down with Khatami" from the top of the Arc de Triomphe.
A woman protester breached security at the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization where the Iranian leader spoke, screaming "Khatami is a terrorist."
The People's Mujahedeen of Iran, the largest opposition group has carried out a harassment campaign since Khatami's arrival.
France got a clear moral boost from the visit, and Khatami said the two nations have "good ground" for relations that, ultimately, can benefit Europe.
However, Khatami provided mixed messages about Iranian willingness to narrow the diplomatic divide with the United States, which has not had ties with Iran since the revolution.
He said there were "no obstacles" on the road to developing ties and that "an important step" had already been taken with cultural exchanges and sports competition.
And he welcomed the U.S. State Department's decision to include the Mujahedeen on a list of terrorist organizations as among several positive signs for the better relations.
At another point, though, Khatami seemed less optimistic.
"Dismantling the wall of mistrust takes time, takes a certain change in the U.S. attitude."
"If the axis of the 20th century was the force of the sword, ... we must understand that the main axis of the coming century must be that of dialogue," Khatami said in his speech Friday before education ministers at UNESCO. "Otherwise, the steely sword will turn into a double-edged blade which will spare no one. Powerful warmongers may be the first victims."
Khatami, locked in a power-struggle with hard-liners in Tehran, has been forced to tread carefully during his visit.
Khatami's proposal for a dialogue between cultures was passed in a November 1998 U.N. resolution for the year 2000. It helped open the door to new links between the Islamic republic and the West.
However, the arrest in March of 13 Iranian Jews charged with spying for Israel has provided a new source of friction with the West.
Khatami told reporters he would not intervene on behalf of the Jews.
"All countries are sensitive to their own security," he said.
He noted that eight Muslims were arrested along with the 13 Jews, so "religion is of no concern here."
"We will do our best to have their rights observed," he said.
Espionage in Iran is punishable by death.
Khatami Takes Issue With West
By Elaine Ganley|
Associated Press Writer
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, in a jab at the United States, compared globalization to colonialism and said Thursday that it was a destructive force threatening dialogue between cultures.
In a brief speech at the Pantheon, where the great figures of France are entombed, Khatami said this dialogue should be based on "respect for equality."
"The new world order and globalization that certain powers are trying to make us accept ... in which the culture of the entire world is ignored, looks like a kind of neocolonialism," he said. "This imperialism threatens mutual understanding between nations, and communication and dialogue between cultures."
Meanwhile, Israel's education minister added his voice to calls for the freeing of 13 Iranian Jews imprisoned since March as alleged spies.
Yossi Sarid, addressing the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, called the spying charges against the group "totally baseless."
French President Jacques Chirac met at length with Khatami on Wednesday and asked for an "equitable examination" of the case of the arrested Iranian Jews, according to the presidency.
The first Iranian leader to visit France since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Khatami was forced to delay a Thursday speech at UNESCO because of concerns about his safety. UNESCO later announced that Khatami would address its general conference on Friday morning.
Khatami has spent most of his time at France's tightly guarded official guest residence around the corner from the Elysee Palace.
France has stepped up security during the three-day visit that ends Friday, carrying out raids Wednesday on residences housing members of Iran's largest opposition group and reinstituting border controls done away with in Europe's Schengen accords.
The People's Mujahedeen of Iran, the opposition group with an army in Iraq, hit Khatami's car with paint-filled eggs Wednesday, according to media reports that said 20 Iranians were later arrested. About 40 Iranian opponents, mainly members of the Mujahedeen, were temporarily detained in raids earlier in the day.
The speech to UNESCO was seen as an opportunity for the moderate Iranian leader to define publicly where his nation was headed, and hint at how far he could go in implementing his goal of dialogue rather than confrontation with the West.
Khatami is in a power struggle with Iranian hard-liners, forced to tread carefully on this trip. The stakes have been raised with legislative elections set for February and growing repression in Iran against intellectuals and journalists.
On Wednesday, the French firm Alstom said it would provide $201 million worth of diesel-electric locomotives to Iran, and on Thursday, Iranian Transport Minister Mohammad Hojjati told Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency that Iran was ordering four European Airbus planes, an agreement worth $480 million, with delivery to start in 2001.
U.S. Spokesman Offers Iran Unconditional Talks
TEHRAN,(Reuters) - A senior U.S. official was quoted by an Iranian newspaper on Wednesday offering face-to-face, unconditional negotiations between Washington and Tehran to forge "more normal" relations after two decades of hostilities.
"We have offered to enter into a dialogue without preconditions as to subject matter or outcome," the English-language daily Iran News quoted State Department spokesman James Rubin as saying. |
The newspaper said Rubin made his comments in an exclusive interview. "Our point is that if we are to get beyond the current stage of unproductive statements and rhetoric, we must sit down face-to-face," it quoted Rubin as saying.
"The purpose of the dialogue is to establish a road map of reciprocal steps each side could take to develop a more normal relationship," he said.
Rubin said his country welcomed an "authoritative dialogue" reflecting U.S. and Iranian concerns, including long-standing American economic sanctions on the Islamic republic.
"We believe there should be no preconditions or limitations on such a dialogue, only a sincere commitment on both sides to explore ways to resolve the policy differences between us." Diplomatic relations between Iran and the United States have been severed since the crisis over U.S. diplomats held hostage in Tehran after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Washington and Tehran have each signalled a readiness to rehabilitate their ties, but increased contacts have so far been mostly restricted to cultural and sports exchanges. Iran has repeatedly rebuffed U.S. offers of official talks to address Washington's three main concerns -- Iran's alleged support for terrorism, amassing weapons of mass destruction and opposition to the Arab-Israeli peace process.
Tehran has demanded practical steps from Washington, such as releasing Iranian assets in the United States frozen after the 1979-81 hostage crisis and an end to the economic embargo. Rubin said the sanctions would remain in place until Iran took "positive steps" to address U.S. concerns.
"The United States remains opposed to efforts to assist the development of the Iranian energy sector and to the construction of pipelines (from the Caspian Sea region) across Iran." Rubin earlier this month warned of possible military action if Iran failed to cooperate in the inquiry into the 1996 bombing of a U.S. military housing complex in Saudi Arabia, in which 19 American servicemen were killed.
Iran denied any role in the attack and said it was a Saudi matter.
Tension Mounts as France Prepares for Iranian Visit
PARIS, (Reuters) - France battened down the hatches on Tuesday for a second human rights storm this week, defending its decision to host Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and closing its borders to Iranian exiles hoping to come to protest.
Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine told the National Assembly that talking with the relatively moderate Khatami, due in Paris on Wednesday, was the best way to help imprisoned students, Jews and other dissenters. |
At the same time, Paris revived defunct border controls to block over 200 Iranian exiles from entering France from Germany and Belgium, police said. Another 15 flying in from Canada were refused entry on arrival in Paris. The tension over Khatami's visit rose just hours after the departure of Chinese President Jiang Zemin, whose five-day visit prompted repeated protests over Beijing's human rights record. President Jacques Chirac came in for heavy criticism from French and exiled Chinese human rights activists for inviting him to his country home over the weekend.
But both countries represent interesting markets for France. During his visit, Jiang announced a deal for 28 Airbus planes. Iran has awarded oil and gas contracts to the merging French firms Elf and TotalFina and appears interested in importing French wheat, officials say.
TEHRAN SAYS - DON'T MEDDLE IN INTERNAL AFFAIRS
Vedrine told deputies France was concerned about democracy in Iran and would speak frankly with Khatami about the fate of protesting students arrested last July and 13 Jews imprisoned with about 30 other Iranians on questionable spying charges. "The defence of these just causes will certainly not advance if we were to renounce holding talks with President Khatami who was elected...against the most archaic elements of the Islamic Revolution," he said.
He stressed that Khatami was backed by "the immense majority of youths and women (and)...opposed all along the way by the justice and police apparatus." "We are very clear and careful," he added. "We know how violent the current struggles in that country can be."
The delicacy of Khatami's visit was illustrated earlier this year when he cancelled a trip to Paris over France's refusal to bar wine from an official banquet. To avoid offending Islamic sensitivities this time, Paris will not offer a dinner at all.
FRANCE ASKS NEIGHBOURS TO SUSPEND SCHENGEN AGREEMENT
Among them were 15 Iranian-born Canadians, including seven women and four children, who were refused entry upon arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and ordered back to Canada. Human rights groups, Iranian exiles and France's main Jewish organisation plan protests on Wednesday to demand Paris take Khatami to task over continued press and religious censorship and charges of rights abuses.
Khatami was set to meet Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin on Wednesday, address the UNESCO general assembly on Thursday and meet French business leaders on Friday. There has also been speculation in Iranian newspapers that Tehran may secure a $1.5 billion loan from France.
France Sets Border Checks to Stop Iranian Dissidents
PARIS, (Reuters) - France has re-established defunct border controls to prevent Iranian dissidents from entering the country during a visit by President Mohammad Khatami beginning on Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday. |
The opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran, an Iraqi-backed exile group, said thousands of would-be protesters had been turned back at French borders in recent days. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Anne Gazeau-Secret said Paris had asked neighbouring Italy and Germany to suspend Schengen zone free-movement accords from October 23 to 29. France fears violence, especially by the People's Mujahidin, which Paris has banned as a terror group.
News agencies in Paris received a steady stream of telephone calls on Tuesday from people saying they were Iranians prevented from entering France from various neighbouring countries. The callers said they had planned to join demonstrations called by the National Resistance Council which said it expected 10,000 people to rally in Paris against Khatami. Council spokesmen showed up at news organisations to give details of cases where would-be demonstrators were turned back, saying police had used force in many cases including against U.S. and Canadian-passport holders seeking to enter France.
They said dozens of busloads of sympathisers had been turned back at France's borders with Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Luxembourg starting on Sunday. Officials could not immediately confirm the figures but did say a group of Iranian-born Canadians refused entry upon arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris were to be sent back to Canada later on Tuesday.
Telephone callers to Reuters in Paris included a man who said he spoke for 50 ethnic Iranians with Norwegian passports who, he said, had sat down outside a French border patrol office at the Belgian border where they had been blocked.
Max Konooz, 45, of Washington D.C., a U.S. citizen of Iranian descent, called from Germany to say he had been forced back on to the plane which had brought him to Paris earlier in the day. All the callers took advantage of the telephone conversations to make political statements, often using the exact same terms, against Iran's current political leaders.
Paris wants to nurture a thaw in relations with Tehran since the election of the relatively moderate Khatami two years ago. It is also keen to cement economic relations with a country which has already awarded big contracts to French oil and gas groups and is a promising market for French wheat exporters.
Iranian President To Visit France
The Associated Press|
Iranian President Ali Khatami will visit France next week at the invitation of President Jacques Chirac only the second trip to Western Europe by an Iranian leader since the country's 1979 Islamic revolution.
Khatami will meet with Chirac, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and Christian Poncelet, the president of the French Senate, during the three-day visit starting Wednesday, the Elysee Palace announced Friday.
The Iranian leader will also make a speech at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization during its annual general assembly.
French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine extended the invitation during a visit to Tehran, and discussions were held during a February visit to France by Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi. While no dates were set, spring 1999 was widely seen as the timeframe.
However, differences over the serving of wine at an eventual dinner with Chirac customary for a state visit in France apparently upset the plans. The Iranians reportedly insisted that wine be removed from the menu because drinking alcohol is against Islamic custom.
It was not immediately clear whether wine would be served during Khatami's visit.
Khatami visited Italy in March, the first trip to Western Europe by an Iranian leader since the 1979 revolution.
The Iranian president has led a drive since his election in May 1997 to soften the image of the Islamic Republic of Iran and ease some of its hard-line policies.
France and Iran would both like to expand their economic and cultural ties.
Barriers remain, however. Although Paris and Tehran announced in February an accord for cultural, scientific and technical cooperation, staff members for the French Research Institute in Tehran still have trouble obtaining visas.
Iran Court Jails Cleric Over Protest Letter
TEHRAN, (Reuters) - A hardline Iranian court has jailed an outspoken reformist cleric for one year for signing a petition against the house arrest of Iran's leading dissident clergyman, a newspaper reported on Monday.
The moderate daily Khordad said the Special Court for Clergy issued the sentence after convicting Akbar Tajik-Saeedi, prayer leader at a Tehran mosque, of "propagating for (dissident Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali) Montazeri, spreading lies and confusing public opinion." |
It said Tajik-Saeedi had been among 180 Shi'ite Moslem clerics and seminary students who issued a public letter protesting at the house arrest since late 1997 of Montazeri for criticising the country's system of supreme clerical rule. There was no immediate official confirmation of the report.
The clerical court, which acts independenty of the judiciary and answers only to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has stepped up its campaign against religious reformers since moderate President Mohammad Khatami took office in 1997. Several reformist clerics close to Khatami have been convicted over the past two years by the court which meets behind closed doors to deal with offences committed by clerics.
Former Vice-President Abdollah Nouri, a key Khatami ally, will be tried by the court later this week on charges of political and religious dissidence. Among other charges, Nouri is also accused of providing political backing for Montazeri, who maintains a large but discreet network of supporters within the power structure.
Iran Radical Takes Message to Hardline Heartland
QOM, Iran, (Reuters) - Cleric and leading reformist Abdollah Nouri on Friday carried his radical doctrine of religious pluralism to this holy Shi'ite city, spiritual home to Iran's conservative establishment. |
Nouri, political champion of the reform movement and a confidant of President Mohammad Khatami, used the anniversary of the birth of Imam Ali to issue a parable of harmony and cooperation between rival factions.
"The clerics in mediaeval Europe did all they could to stop freedom of expression but it is the European democracies today who are carrying out the Islamic traditions of pluralism and democracy," the diminutive Nouri told a crowd gathered to commemorate the birthday of Ali, the first Imam to lead the young Moslem community after the death of the Prophet Mohammad. "It is not contrary to (Islamic) values for people to have different views. In fact, pluralism itself is a value," Nouri said.
The largely pro-reform crowd shouted down attempts by hardline youth to disrupt Nouri but he cut short his address amid rising factional tensions inside the Shahid Hadarian Sports Hall. His appearance will have special resonance in Qom, 135 km (80 miles) southwest of the capital Tehran, for it is here that the powerful clerical establishment has recently reaffirmed its monopoly on religious interpretation.
In prayer sermons, newspaper interviews and lectures, the Qom-based senior clerics have demanded obedience from Khatami -- the country's top elected official and, like Nouri, a mid-ranking Shi'ite cleric. The Islamic reformers argue that a religion imposed by force is not valid and only when free choice, not coercion or violence underpins religious belief will Iran's dream of an Islamic republic ring true.
CLERICAL COURT INDICTMENT
He is also charged with providing political backing to Iran's top dissident cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who has been held under house arrest since 1997. Nouri has dismissed the court as "an illegal body" and said his conservative rivals were fighting in vain against the tide of Islam and human history. Earlier this week he vowed to fight the charges, after winning a one-week delay to line up his legal team. One of Iran's top reformist ayatollahs, the Friday prayer leader of Isfahan, has agreed to help represent Nouri at the trial.
Conviction by the court, seen by Nouri and his aides as a foregone conclusion, would provide grounds to disqualify him from parliamentary polls in February, when he hoped to lead a reformist takeover of the conservative-held legislature.
A PARABLE OF IMAM ALI
"Death to the opponents of absolute clerical rule," yelled the protesters, a reference to Nouri's liberal views on the Islamic republic system. "Death to the Taleban," responded the majority in the nearby stands, some holding aloft pictures of Khatami.
Next week, Nouri is expected to make a spirited defence of his pluralistic views before the special court. Nouri's supporters have decried the court as no more than an "inquisition" threatening the tradition of freedom for religious thinkers under Shiite Islam. They also say the timing of the trial was designed to block Nouri's expected run for Speaker of parliament, a post held by an establishment cleric who lost to Khatami in 1997.
But Nouri says he cannot be derailed so easily. "I don't care about the outcome (of the trial), so don't you worry," he recently told university students in Tehran, pledging to take part in the elections no matter what the verdict against him.
Iran Opposes U.S. Interference, Threat
TEHRAN - XINHUA - A senior Iranian official on Friday urged the United States to revise its policies and not to interfere in the internal affairs of independent nations.
Speaking at a Friday prayer at Tehran University campus, a Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani, a member of the country's powerful Experts Assembly, said the U.S. Administration should dismount from the "wild bronco riding arrogance." |
He said that the U.S. should try to emend its threats of bastinadoes and bayonet to create fear, dread, intimidation and terror among others, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported. He was in response to a recent call by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to Iran not to put on trial the 13 Iranian Jews arrested on charges of spying for Israel. Albright also warned that Washington would take certain decisions to prevent the trial of the accused.
"It is astonishing to see how a diplomatic top brass would allow herself to express opinion regarding judicial affairs of an independent country and those accused," Kashani said. He noted that the Islamic Republic termed such statements as a kind of blatant interference and irresponsible blurt. The relations between countries are based on international norms and laws, he said, adding that "if you want the world to recognize you as a power, you should not engage yourself in supporting disorders and anarchism."
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi on Tuesday also refuted Albright's remarks as "baseless" and a "blatant U.S. intervention in the internal affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran." The investigation of the case lies within the jurisdiction of the country's judiciary which would review the case with full independence, he said.
The Iranian Jews were arrested in April for allegedly working for Israeli and U.S. intelligence services, but both Israel and the U.S. denied the accusation.