September 1998, Week 4
|U.S.-Iran relations remain cool||Sept 30|
|Albright Urges Patience Toward Iran||Sept 30|
|Iran and the Fatwa||Sept 30|
|Iran bans moderate daily for insulting Khomeini||Sept 29|
|Iran minister: No basis for talks with U.S.||Sept 29|
|U.S. Art Exhibition Promotes Iran||Sept 28|
|Iranians debate government position on Rushdie||Sept 27|
|Iranians Hope to End Rogue State Status||Sept 25|
|Iranian paper foresees ambassador exchange with UK||Sept 25|
|Conviction in Iran-Jet Conspiracy||Sept 24|
|Iranian Leader Dismisses All Hopes of Early Political Thaw||Sept 23|
|Iran May Lift Rushdie Threat||Sept 23|
|U.S., Britain cautious about Iran's position on Rushdie||Sept 22|
|Iran Leader Calls for U.S. Funding||Sept 22|
|Albright, Iran Minister Meet||Sept 22|
|Detained Iran journalists could be executed||Sept 22|
|Iranian leader denounces terrorism, calls for Afghan talks||Sept 22|
U.S.-Iran relations remain cool
(CNN) - Publicly rejecting U.S. calls for formal talks with his country,
Iran's foreign minister said Washington must lift sanctions and make other policy
changes if it wants to begin a serious political dialogue.
"There is no ground for political negotiations while these policies continue,"
Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said Monday in response to U.S. overtures in June
for better relations.
"While we see the emergence of a new tone in the United States, old unfounded allegations are yet to cease," Kharrazi said in a speech before the Asia Society in New York.Several senior State Department officials attended the event, looking for a sign of warming relations in the aftermath of Mohammad Khatami's election 16 months ago as Iran's president.
Since then, Washington and Tehran have been speaking to each other indirectly -- from the U.N. podium, in television interviews and in policy speeches like Kharrazi's.But, he added, Washington had hoped for more. "In all honesty, one would hope that we could make faster progress than giving speeches to each other at arms length.," Pickering said. "That may not be possible, and there was a kind of coda or undercurrent in the speech that I thought counseled patience."
The United States severed ties with Iran after revolutionary militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.Kharrazi said that while U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Al bright had called for a "road map" for an eventual resumption of relations between t he former allies, Washington continued to undermine his government.
For example, Kharrazi cited:
Kharrazi's demands for meaningful change mirror those Washington has made of Iran. U.S. officials have acknowledged a softer Iranian tone toward the United States but have said they are looking for actions, not words.Since Khatami was elected as Iran's president 16 months ago, U.S. officials have looked f or signs of warming relations Shortly after he took office last year, Khatami -- viewed as a moderate in the West -- called for people-to-people exchanges with America, saying the strained ties between the two countries did not preclude cultural swaps.
Since then, there have been several cultural, academic and athletic exchanges between the two countries, and growing speculation about whether Tehran was ready for talks to resume relations.But despite Khatami's conciliatory tone, he has been reluctant to engage in any talk of resuming relations because of strong opposition from religious hard-liners inside Iran's Islamic government.
Kharrazi said, however, that Iran was ready to cooperate with all countries on international campaigns against terrorism, narcotics and weapons of mass destruction.
That could be problematic; Washington identifies Iran as the top sponsor of terrorism, and accuses it of trying to acquire nuclear weapons, charges that Tehran rejects.
Kharrazi emphasized that Iran differentiates between terrorism and support for Lebanese and Palestinian groups fighting Israeli occupation.
Albright Urges Patience Toward Iran
By Anwar Faruqi|
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- It will take time and patience to establish good relations with Iran, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Tuesday in a low-keyed response to a tough dec laration by the foreign minister of the country's Islamic fundamentalist government.
``We are ready to engage in a process in which each side is able to address the other's c oncerns,'' Albright said at a news conference.
And while she objected to Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazzi's criticism of U.S. policy, Alb right lauded Iran for having an anti-drug policy, for its stand of Afghanistan and for gi ving Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat ``space'' to negotiate peace with Israel.
Kharazzi, in a speech Monday to the Asia Society in New York, said that despite U.S. call s for formal talks with his country, there was no basis for negotiations without a meanin gful change in Washington's behavior toward Tehran.
``While we see the emergence of a new tone in the United States, old unfounded allegation s are yet to cease,'' Kharrazi said.
``It is evident that prolongation of outdated behavior ... can simply not provide the nec essary basis for an invitation to political dialogue,'' he said.
Albright nonetheless persisted in making overtures to Iran that are based on a judgment w ithin the Clinton administration that President Mohammad Khatami represents a new moderat ion in Tehran.
After a close relationship with Iran during the shah's rule, the United States cut ties a fter he was overthrown by fundamentalists who overran the U.S. Embassy and took Americans there hostage.
Sensing a change, or at least trying to promote one, the Clinton administration has signa led Tehran repeatedly that it would like to repair relations. To get started, there have been cultural and athletic exchanges, much as the United States and China launched their reconciliation nearly three decades ago.
At Tuesday's news conference, Albright mixed in some criticism of Iran with her overtures . She cited, for instance, support for terrorism and trying to acquire weapons of mass de struction.
But she said the United States had proposed ``parallel steps'' toward a reconciliation, a nd added: ``We know this will require patience.''
Iran and the Fatwa
ASKED AT THE United Nations about the status of the decade-old death order against noveli
st Salman Rushdie, Iranian President Mohammed Khatemi reportedly expressed some disappoin
tment that the matter had even come up. All that, he suggested, belongs to a "war of civi
lizations" between Islam and the West that he is at pains to replace with an era of "dial
ogue between civilizations." Mr. Khatemi called the fatwa an "opinion" by an Islamic juri
st and suggested the matter should be considered as "completely finished." A day later, h
is foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi, made much stronger statements in a meeting with Brit
ish Foreign Minister Robin Cook. He said the government of Iran "has no intention, nor is
it going to take any action whatsoever, to threaten the life of the author of 'The Satan
ic Verses' . . . nor will it encourage or assist anybody to do so." |
Such words send a welcome signal, and the move to "dialogue" ought indeed to include the abandoning of incitement to murder. Both the British Foreign Office and Mr. Rushdie himse lf reacted favorably to Mr. Kharrazi's comments. Britain upgraded diplomatic relations wi th Iran, and Mr. Rushdie appeared on TV to express his relief.
But of course only Mr. Rushdie's continued safety can show this is more than a mere signa l. Mr. Khatemi is moving cautiously -- and against considerable opposition at home -- to provide some degree of cultural and political opening. The mixed signals on the Rushdie f atwa have long been an index of that struggle.
The State Department has taken a firm line on the fatwa through these years of gyrations, noting that its existence remains a barrier to relations and an invitation to internatio nal terrorism. It should continue to make clear that those who supported the fatwa all th ese years remain answerable for Mr. Rushdie's safety. Dialogue between civilizations is t o be encouraged, but a real abatement of state-sponsored violence requires a continued fo cus on results.
Iran bans moderate daily for insulting Khomeini
TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- Iran on Monday officially banned a major opposition newspaper for insulting
the late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Iranian news agency IRNA reported.
"The press supervisory board ... unanimously revoked the license of the Tous newspaper and handed over
its case to the press court," the agency said.
The move formalized the closure of the outspoken daily, which was shut earlier this month by an Islami
c revolutionary court which also ordered the arrest of several of its staff on unspecified charges of acti
ng against Iran's security.
The press board ruled that Tous had insulted Ayatollah Khomeini by publishing an interview with former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, in which he said Khomeini had sought political asylum in Franc e after arriving in Paris before the 1979 Islamic revolution, IRNA said. Newspapers have said police have detained four senior Tous journalists -- Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, Ham id Reza Jalaeipour, Ebrahim Nabavi and Mohammad Sadeq Javadi-Hesar. Tous, which often criticised the conservatives, had gained wide circulation by testing the limits of w ider Iranian press freedom introduced by President Mohammad Khatami. The closing of Tous, and the reported suspension of two moderate weeklies, came shortly after Iran's s upreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called on officials to take action against newspapers which he accuse d of "abusing freedom of speech to weaken the people's Islamic beliefs."
The moves against the moderate publications have sparked a row, with conservatives calling for more de cisive action and several moderate groups and newspapers denouncing the measures as illegal. Conservatives have attacked the more outspoken moderate newspapers as threats to national security and a senior Islamic judge warned that the jailed Tous journalists could face the death penalty as "mohareb," or "those who fight God." Some of Khatami's moderate backers have expressed concern that powerful conservative opponents might t ake advantage of the face-off with the Afghan Taleban to move against some newly granted liberties.
Khatami's government, which came to power last year, has granted unprecedented press freedom and licen sed dozens of new publications. It has relaxed censorship on books and films.
Iran minister: No basis for talks with U.S.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Iran's foreign minister said Monday that despite U.S. calls for formal talks with his
country, there was no basis for negotiations without a meaningful change in Washington's behavior toward
"While we see the emergence of a new tone in the United States, old unfounded allegations are yet to c
ease," Kamal Kharrazi said in a speech to the Asia Society in New York.
"It is evident that prolongation of outdated behavior ... can simply not provide the necessary basis f
or an invitation to political dialogue," Kharrazi said, reading from a prepared text in English.
He said that while Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had called for a "road map" for an eventual r
esumption of relations between the former allies, Washington continued to undermine his government.
For example, Kharrazi cited the U.S. economic sanctions on Iran, Congress' decision to allocate $20 mi llion for covert activities in Iran, and approval for radio broadcasts against his government. "Logically, the United States' active pursuit of the policies I have already outlined and the absence of visible signs of its intention or ability to change course are hardly compatible with the proposal to d evelop a road map to change the state of affairs," Kharrazi said. Kharrazi's demands for meaningful change mirror those Washington has made of Iran: U.S. officials have acknowledged a softer Iranian tone toward the United States, but have said they are looking for actions, not words. Shortly after he took office in August last year, Iran's moderate president, Mohammad Khatami, called for people-to-people exchanges with America, saying the strained ties between the two countries did not pr eclude cultural swaps.
Since then, there have been several cultural, academic and athletic exchanges between the two countrie s, and growing speculation about whether Tehran was ready for talks to resume relations. But despite Khatami's conciliatory tone, he has been reluctant to engage in any talk of resuming relat ions because of strong opposition from religious hard-liners inside Iran's Islamic government. Kharrazi said, however, that Iran was ready to cooperate with all countries on international campaigns against terrorism, narcotics and weapons of mass destruction. That could be problematic; Washington identifies Iran as the top sponsor of terrorism, and accuses it of trying to acquire nuclear weapons, charges that Tehran rejects. Kharrazi emphasized that Iran differentiates between terrorism and support for Lebanese and Palestinia n groups fighting Israeli occupation.
Iran's 1989 death sentence on Salman Rushdie, the Indian-born British author of the "Satanic Verses," has contributed to Iran's tarnished international image. The late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a "fatwa," or edict calling for Rushdie's death, saying th e book had committed blasphemy against Islam. On Thursday, Kharrazi said his government was distancing itself from a $2.5 million reward offered for Rushdie's death, a gesture that promised to improve ties with Europe. Kharrazi said European companies were gearing to invest in Iran, while U.S. firms were lagging behind because of Washington's economic sanctions.
"American people have become even more aware, I believe, that current U.S. policies betray their inter ests," he said. The United States severed ties with Iran after revolutionary militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Teh ran in 1979 and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.
U.S. Art Exhibition Promotes Iran
U.S. Art Exhibition Promotes Iran
By Anwar Faruqi|
Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK (AP) -- In the first such event since Iran-US relations soured two decades ago, Iran's foreign min ister opened a cultural exhibition Friday that organizers hope will help promote a better image of their re volutionary country.
The small exhibition, at a makeshift gallery in New York, is part of an effort by Iran's moderate President Mohammad Khatami to smooth out his country's hostile ties with the United States through non-official exch anges.
``We think that Iran has a great culture and civilization that has been overshadowed by the bad relations w ith the United States. Now, we're trying to show Americans a different side of Iran,'' said Mohammad Yazdan far, an Iranian-American who organized the show.
The show, which features 12 Iranian and Iranian-American artists, is sponsored by a private council compris ed of Iranian-American academics.
Yazdanfar, who has lived in the United States for more than 30 years,
said he had been approached by Iranian diplomats at the United Nations to organize the two-day event. He sa id they had helped set it up.
There have been several sports and academic exchanges between Iran and the United States since Khatami call ed for people-to-people exchanges with America last January.
U.S. wrestlers have received warm welcomes in Iran twice this year. and Iranian athletes also have been to the United States.
Kamal Kharrazi, the foreign minister, visited the exhibition of paintings, books and calligraphy for about 30 minutes. He was part of the delegation that accompanied Khatami for a United Nations General Assembly se ssion.
The colorful show features Iranian painters like Mahmoud Farschian, considered one of the masters of contem porary Iranian art, and other renown artists like Parviz Kalantari and Taraghijah.
Before leaving the United States Tuesday, Khatami called for more exchanges with the United States, saying he would like to see American investment in Iran. A U.S. embargo bans investment and trade with Tehran.
U.S. officials have welcomed cultural exchanges with the United States, but have called for direct talks wi th Iranian officials. Despite Khatami's conciliatory tone, he has been reluctant to engage in any talk of r elations because of strong opposition from religious hard-liners inside Iran's Islamic government.
On Thursday, Kharrazi said his government was distancing itself from a dlrs 2.5 million reward for killing Salman Rushdie, the Indian-born British author of the ``Satanic Verses.''
Iran's 1989 death sentence on Rushdie, imposed by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who said the writer had committed blasphemy against Islam in his book, has contributed to Iran's tarnished international image.
The United States severed ties with Iran after revolutionary militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran a nd held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.
Iranians debate government position on Rushdie
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Many Iranians seem to agree that little has
changed after Iran's announcement that it would distance itself
from the Islamic edict calling for the death of British writer
On Sunday, both newspapers and ordinary Iranians debated the announcement made Thursday in New York by Iran's foreign minister. Rushdie has said he sees new safety in the decision to distance the Iranian government from a $2.5 million reward for his death.
But the hard-line Jomhuri Eslami said in an editorial that the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's "fatwa," or Islamic edict, calling for Rushdie's death was still applicable.
"Any promise in this regard... is a personal interpretation and has nothing to do with the Islamic Republic. There is no room for optimism by Rushdie and his supporters," the paper said.
The Iran News, a moderate daily close to the foreign ministry, said there was nothing new in Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi's statement. It pointed out that the government's position has for several years been not to seek Rushdie's death.
The difference, however, was that "Britain has now decided that is sufficient for normalization of relations. Britain feels left out of lucrative business deals Iran has struck with other European countries," said the daily.
Ordinary Iranians also had mixed reactions to the announcement. "I think it's best that the government takes a stand on this issue. What they did was logical and smart," said Amir Mohammad-Nejad, a 29-year-old university student.
Fariba Saddiq, a 38-year old secretary, said Iran's position was inevitable given President Mohammad Khatami's overtures to the West since he took office last year.
However, she added, "The world should realize the fatwa is irrevocable."
The Rushdie affair has been the main hurdle in Iran's efforts to improve ties with the European Union. Britain has sought better relations in order to benefit from lucrative projects in Iran, which have gone to France and other European countries with better ties with Tehran. Iran has been trying to change its foreign policy ever since Khatami, a moderate cleric, became president in August 1997. Khatami has underscored the need to replace confrontation with dialogue in Iran's relations with the West, including the United States.
But powerful hard-liners inside the Islamic regime have always supported the death sentence and are likely to continue to do so.
Although relieved at Iran's announcement of distancing itself from the reward for his death, the 51-year-old Rushdie said he was still cautious since the fatwa itself was not lifted.
"I feel there is a small, continued need for caution" but "this can be dealt with without the colossal apparatus of state protection," he said a day after Kharrazi's announcement.
Rushdie has spent nearly a decade in hiding since Khomeini called for his death on Feb. 14, 1989, claiming his book, "The Satanic Verses," blasphemed Islam.
In Pakistan, Islamic groups were outraged at Iran for softening its stand toward Rushdie, and some Sunni Muslim groups questioned the legitimacy of Shiite Islam, the dominant sect in Iran.
"The Iranian brand of Islam has been exposed," Sheik Hakim, chief of Sunni Muslim militant Sipah-e-Sahaba, or the Guardians of the Friends of the Prophet, said Saturday. "According to Islam, Rushdie is liable to death. But Iran is changing its stance for worldly gains."
Iranians Hope to End Rogue State Status
By Howard Schneider|
Washington Post Foreign Service
TEHRAN;Pay Feemahy, 26, said he has traveled abroad several times in his career as an engineer and always found it troubling that his native country has such a negative image in Europe and the United States. "They thought we were all terrorists," he said.
So if one thing grows from Iranian President Mohammed Khatemi's speech at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly on Monday, and his subseq uent appearance before reporters in New York today, Feemahy and others in this crowded capital hope it is an end to Iran's image as a rogue nation.
When they heard Khatemi speak of the origins of Iran's ancient culture, call for a "dialogue of civilizations" and voice faith that the Amer ican people prefer peace to world domination, he captured their hopes that Iran can emerge as an important and constructive force in the wor ld, they said.
"Iran has been given a very bad picture," Feemahy said, adding that Khatemi's U.N. address "is very good because he can show the best of Ira n and the Iranian people."
Khatemi's speech, the first by an Iranian leader to the United Nations in 12 years, was considered a landmark in a country whose president t ries daily to reconcile his message of cultural tolerance with the still-dominant influence of conservatives in parliament, the clergy and e lsewhere. In one sign of the conservative backlash against Khatemi, who was elected in 1997, conservative members of parliament have recentl y urged the minister in charge of culture to take a stricter hand in policing journalists; one pro-Khatemi newspaper has already been closed .
More significantly, a buildup of troops along the Afghan border, and the prospect of military action to avenge the deaths of nine Iranian di plomats killed by Afghanistan's Taliban militia, is viewed as potentially disruptive to Khatemi's program, since it would refocus power and attention on the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
In light of his delicate political standing at home, Khatemi's trip to "the Great Satan" poses significant risks. Some officials here played down reports of a possible meeting between Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi as prematur e. Such a meeting would have been the highest level contact between the two governments since the 1979 Islamic revolution and the taking of U.S. hostages that led to severed diplomatic ties. As it was, not only did Kharrazi not meet with Albright, but he sent a deputy to a sessio n of an eight-nation group that discussed the crisis in Afghanistan.
Many Iranians attach particular significance to Khatemi's meeting with Iranians living in the United States and Canada. His willingness to e ntertain their questions, rather than condemn them as traitors, was seen as an important step toward winning back some of the skilled worker s and capital that fled the country with the collapse of the American-backed shah's government.
"I don't know if they want to return," Mohammad Andahree said as he strolled by bookstores near Tehran University. "But Mr. Khatemi gave the m a good picture of today's Iran, and it's very positive."
Iranian paper foresees ambassador exchange with UK
TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- A landmark meeting on Thursday between the foreign ministers of Britain and Iran could lead to the exchange of
ambassadors, an Iranian newspaper said.
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and his Iranian counterpart Kamal Kharrazi are due to meet in New York on the margins of the United
Nations General Assembly.
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami told reporters in New York on Tuesday a death edict against British author Salman Rushdie-- the issue
that has bedeviled relations between London and Tehran for the last nine years-- was "completely finished."
The English daily Iran News, which in the past has often reflected the views of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, said in a front page repor
t on Thursday headed "Iran and UK close to upgrading relations" there was a "strong likelihood" that the Cook-Kharrazi meeting might lead to
an exchange of ambassadors.
The last time British and Iranian foreign ministers met was in 1994 when British then-Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd had discussions wit h Iran's Ali Akbar Velayati. Diplomatic relations between London and Tehran were disrupted in February 1989 when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Iran's spiritual l eader, issued a fatwa or death edict against Rushdie for blaspheming against Islam in his novel "The Satanic Verses." The Majlis, Iran's parliament, ordered that ties with Britain be severed, and the fatwa has colored all political contacts between the t wo countries ever since. Diplomatic relations were restored in 1990 after Iraq invaded Kuwait and Iran, which had fought an eight-year war with Iraq that ended i n 1988, stayed on the sidelines.
But diplomatic business between London and Tehran has been conducted at the level of charges d'affaires. "We just never got round to app ointing ambassadors," a British diplomat said. Britain is seeking a firm guarantee from Iran for the safety of Rushdie, who is constantly protected by armed British police. A wealthy revolutionary foundation in Iran has offered a $2.5 million bounty to anyone who kills the Indian-born writer. Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) said in a despatch from London on Wednesday that Britain was preparing public opinio n for a climbdown over the Rushdie dispute. Besides the Rushdie affair, the two countries have much else to talk about, diplomats in Tehran said. Among the likely subjects were Afg hanistan, trade, drugs trafficking, and ministerial visits between the two governments.
Britain estimates that 95 percent of the heroin sold on British streets comes from poppies grown in Afghanistan. One of the main routes for armed drug traffickers is through the porous Iran-Afghanistan border. Iran's huge military build-up on the Afghan border over the killing of Iranian diplomats last month has plugged many of the gaps, and th e price of opium, from which heroin is made, has doubled in recent weeks, diplomats in Tehran say. Heroin use, although a crime in Iran, is socially tolerated and widespread. The Health Ministry estimates there are 1.2 million users am ong Iran's 60 million people.
Trade between Britain and Iran is hugely in Britain's favor. The value of British exports to Iran was 400 million pounds ($670 million) in 1997 but only one-tenth of that figure in the other direction, according to British figures.
Conviction in Iran-Jet Conspiracy
By Sonja Barisic|
Associated Press Writer
NORFOLK, Va. (AP) -- A Texas man who worked for a multimillionaire arms dealer was convicted Wednesday of conspiring to sell F-14 engine parts to Iran.
Robert Cassidy of Houston faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced Jan. 8 for conspiring to violate the federal Arms Export Control Act.
His former boss, New York-based arms merchant Parviz Lavi, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and is to be sentenced Oct. 15.
Export of the parts requires a federal license, and the government hasn't granted such licenses since the Iranian revolution in 1979. Federal prosecutors said Cassidy, Lavi and two other men never intended to follow the rules, but Cassidy lawyer Larry W. Shelton sa id his client was a victim of entrapment.
In March 1992, Cassidy told a Norfolk aircraft parts merchant that Lavi was seeking F-14 engine parts for export, prosecutors said. The Norfolk merchant contacted federal agents and agreed to cooperate in an investigation. He and another government informant secretly taped about 60 telephone conversations.
A videotape played in court showed Cassidy and Lavi going to a Norfolk warehouse on March 29, 1992, to inspect six F-14 engines and thousands of engine parts. Prosecutors said audio tapes and documents showed that Cassidy and Lavi attempted to have the engines d elivered to Iran by way of Canada.
Shelton argued that the agents placed the six engines worth a total of $15 million in the warehouse for ``the express purpose of en trapment.'' Former Lavi employee Tony Zar also pleaded guilty and testified against Cassidy, saying the engine parts were intended for Iran. He is to be sentenced Oct. 27.
Albert Adama of the Netherlands was indicted but remains a fugitive.
Iranian Leader Dismisses All Hopes of Early Political Thaw
NEW YORK -- President Mohammed Khatami of Iran said Tuesday that
Iran has no intention of opening an official political dialogue
with the United States until Washington takes concrete steps to
change at least its policies toward his country.
In a hastily-arranged, 90-minute breakfast and news conference with a score of journalists, Khatami also made his first statement as president on the fate of novelist Salman Rushdie, who was condemned to death by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, suggesting that the time had come to bring the troublesome human rights issue to a close.
The bearded cleric also reiterated his country's desire to avoid going to war to stop the Taliban militia who control most of neighboring Afghanistan, despite the Iranian troop buildup and planned military maneuvers on the border.
"Iran is ready to defend its security and territorial integrity," said Khatami. "But we are making all efforts so that, God willing, there will not be a war."
The media gathering with Khatami was described by his aides as a way for him to get to know American journalists during his first trip to the United States, and indeed, some of America's leading journalists attended, including the anchors of all three networks, Peter Jennings of ABC, Dan Rather of CBS and Tom Brokaw of NBC.
Perhaps because the news conference was expected to be broadcast on Iranian television, the Iranian delegation struggled to redecorate a conference room at the U.N. Plaza Hotel, laying down a huge Isfahani carpet borrowed from Iran's mission to the United Nations, and planting a large Iranian flag beside the president.
Female reporters were not required to cover their heads, as they must do in Iran, although no members of the all-male Iranian delegation shook their hands.
Khatami, who spoke in Persian, made an effort to charm his guests, smiling easily, showing flashes of humor and telling them how he started out as a journalist and editor himself. He spoke about how he admired the American Puritans, summarized the definition of justice in Plato's Republic and said that he wished he could be a tourist and spend up to a month in America.
Despite his friendly manner, Khatami said that his initiative for cultural exchanges between Iran and the United States had been misunderstood and did not include any government-to-government talks, at least for now.
Even visits to Iran by American congressman and mayors are not under consideration, he said.
"Unfortunately there seems to be a misinterpretation of what I've tried to say in this respect and that is not to confuse a dialogue among people and cultures with political dialogue," he said when asked what specific steps the United States had to take to break the impasse. "But it seems there is a lot of confusion."
Khatami welcomed what he called a "change in speech" by American officials towards Iran. But he criticized the American economic embargo against Iran, American opposition to the construction of a pipeline to transport oil from the Caspian Sea through Iranian territory and American criticism of Iran's behavior. He also faulted the United States for what he called its failure to return the remaining assets belonging to Iranians that were frozen by the U.S. government and for allocating money to "hurt the government of Iran.
Iran is opposed to the creation of a Persian-language surrogate radio station based in Prague and in the past has criticized the United States for launching a covert program to destabilize Iran's government.
Last January, Khatami, in an interview with CNN, announced the launching of cultural exchanges as a way to break down what he called the "wall of mistrust" between the two countries. But Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's spiritual leader who wields more power than the president, made clear within days that America was still Iran's arch-enemy and the initiative did not signal the beginning of a warming of relations.
Last June, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called on Iran in a speech to the Asia Society to work with the United States to draw up a "roadmap" for the establishment of relations between the two countries. But she did not offer any specific incentive or policy change to entice Iran to move.
On Thursday, Iran's foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi, will deliver a speech at the Asia Society in what Iranian officials say is Iran's formal response to Albright's proposal.
Khatami also made his first statement as president on the fate of novelist Salman Rushdie, who was accused of "blasphemy" and condemned to death in a religious decree by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini shortly before his death in 1989.
The official position of the Iranian government is that the decree by Khomeini, who was Iran's supreme religious leader, cannot be revoked, but that Iran has no intention of carrying it out.
Khatami suggested that Khomeini was expressing his own view as an Islamic jurist and that Iran wants to put the matter behind it.
"We should consider the Salman Rushdie issue as completely finished," Khatami said. He added that Khomeini "as an Islamic jurist gave us his opinion about this matter and many other religious leaders have told us their opinions in this respect. The Iranian government has officially announced that in practice it has made no decision to act on this matter."
Khatami's words contrasted sharply with a statement by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Khomeini's successor, in 1993, in which he said, "The fatwa is irreversible. Rushdie should be and will be executed. It is the duty for all Muslims who have access to the mercenary to carry out the sentence."
According to some Islamic scholars, Khamenei has the authority to revoke the ruling.
Khatami was similarly relaxed and expansive in an invitation-only reception Sunday with about 800 Iranians living in America, some of whom had held positions in the regime of the late Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi or had fled Iran during the revolution.
Khatami said little about Islam but appealed to their sense of Iranian nationalism instead. He told the story of two of the heroes in the 11th century Persian epic poem, The Shahnamah, adding that even in battle Iranians treated each other with respect.
"Nationhood is not a piece of land," he said. "It's in your blood."
He urged those with special skills to return home to help reconstruct the country. "You can't expect a hero from outside to come and change things," he said. "You yourselves are the heroes."
Asked about the recent closure of a popular Iranian newspaper by a revolutionary court, Khatami said, "We have a long way to go toward freedom in our country, until the government respects other people's ideas and other people respect the government's ideas also."
When one Iranian guest asked what could be done to help prevent war in Afghanistan, Khatami replied, "Just pray."
Iran May Lift Rushdie Threat
LONDON (AP) -- Salman Rushdie met with British Foreign Office officials Wednesday amid reports that Iran is preparing t
o withdraw publicly the threat on the author's life. |
``We met with representatives of the (Foreign Office) this morning concerning remarks made by Iranian President Mohamma d Khatami,'' said a statement by Rushdie supporters who accompanied him to the meeting.
``We remain cautiously optimistic.''
At a news conference on Tuesday in New York, Khatami suggested that Iran wanted to put the Rushdie affair behind it, sa ying Iran considered it ``completely finished.''
And London's Guardian newspaper reported Wednesday that Kamal Kharrazi, Iran's foreign minister, plans to announce the lifting of the Rushdie death threat when he meets with British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook in New York Thursday.
Publication of Rushdie's '' Satanic Verses'' in 1988 caused an uproar among Muslims around the world, who contended tha t it insulted Islam. The novel brought an Iranian ``fatwa,'' or death sentence from Iran's Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini i n February 1989. Islamic militants put a 1.2 million pound (dlrs 2 million) bounty on the Indian-born British writer's head.
Two members of the International Rushdie Defense Committee accompanied the author to the Foreign Office Wednesday. They said they hoped to meet with government officials again on Thursday.
Iran hopes the move to dissociate Tehran from the bounty will lead to a new diplomatic relationship with Britain, and h elp Tehran shake its pariah status, the Guardian reported.
Kharrazi is likely to tell Cook that the Iranian government is calling on the Khordad Foundation, which in 1989 offered the bounty, to drop the offer and provide other firm indications that the affair is over, the newspaper reported.
Iran has long claimed that the fatwa is an irreversible religious edict, even though it has no plans to send anyone to kill the author. But Britain, also anxious to end the affair, is seeking solid guarantees.
British Muslims said Wednesday the Iranian government has no authority to lift the fatwa.
``It is Islamic law, it will remain so irrespective of what does or does not happen in Tehran,'' said Ghayasuddin Siddi qui, leader of an umbrella group that styles itself the the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain. ``The fatwa stands.'' < P> Siddiqui was, however, careful to emphasize that the parliament was not calling for Muslims in Britain to attempt to ca rry out the death sentence.
``We have always said that the fatwa is valid, but as far as Muslims here are concerned, they should make sure they are not involved in carrying out the fatwa,'' he said.
U.S., Britain cautious about Iran's position on Rushdie
(CNN) - Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said on Tuesday the Salman Rushdie affair should be regarded as "completely
finished." But the United States and Britain reacted cautiously.
Khatami said the Iranian government would not carry out the death sentence issued against Rushdie by the late revolutio
nary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989, but he did not say that Iran was lifting the fatwa, or religious order
condemning the British author to death.
Iranian officials have repeatedly said that since Khomeini issued the order, shortly before he died, no one can rescind it.
Rushdie was targeted for alleged blasphemy of Islam in his novel "The Satanic Verses."
"We should consider the Salman Rushdie issue as completely finished," Khatami told Western reporters in New York, where he was attending the U.N. General Assembly.
He said the Iranian government had already announced that it would take no action on the issue and that his government is now more concerned about dialogue. "From now on, rather than the war of civilizations, we want to promote the dialogue of civilizations, and we hope we ha ve entered the era of dialogue," he said. Iranian sources said that reports in some U.S. media that Iran had lifted the fatwa were incorrect. Responding to those reports, White House spokesman Mike McCurry told reporters, "Given our strong feelings on the fatwa issue on Salman Rushdie initially, if that is carried through and rescinded ... that would be a welcome development."
But he cautioned that Iran's actions spoke louder than its words. Diplomats said they hoped Iran Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi would clarify Iran's position, and announce practical me asures to lessen the threat to Rushdie's life, when he meets British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook at the United Nations on Thursday. A British official said the issue is certain to be raised at that meeting and Britain is working for a resolution of th e problem. Rushdie has lived in hiding under British police protection, making only infrequent public appearances, for the past ni ne years.
Iran Leader Calls for U.S. Funding
By Anwar Faruqi|
Associated Press Writer
UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Iran's leader called for increased U.S. investments Tuesday but Mohammad Khatami said his govern ment remains cautious about improving ties with Washington.
Khatami, who addressed the U.N. General Assembly on Monday, told reporters he sensed a more positive U.S. tone toward h is country, but that was not enough to improve formal ties.
``Just as we sense a change in tone, we also see the allocation of funds in the U.S. Congress to hurt Iran,'' said Khat ami, a moderate cleric who has improved Iran's image since his August 1997 election. He was referring to a $20 million allocation by Congress for covert operations in Iran.
Sitting in the flowing robes and turban of a senior Shiite cleric and speaking between mouthfuls of a a cheese-and-mush room omelette, Khatami said Iranian assets in the United States that were frozen after its 1979 revolution also contrib uted to strained relations.
He reiterated the need for cultural exchanges between the United States and Iran as a way of promoting better understan ding.
``We would like these kinds of exchanges to extend to U.S. industrialists and investors as well. Iran has the right con ditions for foreign investment,'' said Khatami, whose government is grappling with weak oil prices that have played hav oc with the economy.
He said U.S. sanctions that ban investments in Iran were hurting U.S. companies more than Iran. ``This is a big world a nd problems can be solved without the need of the United States,'' Khatami said.
Khatami, asked whether Tehran would lift its death sentence on author Salman Rushdie, said his government had already p ledged not to enforce the fatwa.
``Iran has officially declared that in action it has no decision on this matter,'' Khatami said.
In 1989 the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini accused Rushdie of blasphemy against Islam in his book, ``The Satanic Vers es.'' He issued an Islamic ruling calling for Rushdie's death.
In recent years Iranian officials have said that they cannot lift the execution order, but have pledged not to actively seek Rushdie's death.
Although critical of the United States, Khatami repeatedly expressed his ``respect for the great American people.'' His tone is markedly different from other Iranian leaders.
The last Iranian president to speak at the General Assembly was Ali Khamenei, who in 1986 blasted the ``The Great Satan ,'' as the United States is still called by many officials in Iran.
Khatami said that what Iranians remember about the United States is its support for the late shah, who was ousted by th e 1979 Islamic revolution.
``Given this history, I think we have the right to proceed cautiously about any talk of resuming relations,'' said Khat ami.
Asked about his country's military standoff with the Taliban militia that controls nearly all of Afghanistan, Khatami s aid Tehran was trying its best to avoid a war. Iran massed 200,000 troops on its border with Afghanistan after the Tali ban killed eight Iranian diplomats and an Iranian journalist.
Albright, Iran Minister Meet
By Laura Myers|
Associated Press Writer
UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- They didn't shake hands or sit next to one another, but a small meeting attended by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Iran's deputy foreign minister was the highest level contact between the two nations since the 1979 hostage crisis.
The diplomatic thaw is a slow one though. Iran's top foreign affairs official skipped the Monday session on Afghanist an's troubles at the last minute. And Iranian President Mohammad Khatami had just delivered a speech to the U.N. Gene ral Assembly, sending a mixed message on how far Iran would reach out to the West.
The moderate cleric said his country wanted good relations with the outside world, but he suggested Iran would not ac cept domination by the United States.
``The fantasy of a unipolar world ruled by a single superpower is but an illusion,'' said Khatami in the first addres s to the forum by an Iranian leader in 12 years.
Khatami, elected in May 1997, may have been playing to his audience back home, including hard-line religious fundamen talists who control much of the government and who still see the United States as the ``great Satan.''
Encouraged by Khatami's leadership, Albright extended an olive branch to Iran in June, suggesting the United States w as ready to resume a bilateral dialogue -- something Tehran's leaders have so far rejected.
Monday's U.N.-sponsored meeting on the civil war in Afghanistan and tensions with neighboring Iran also was to give A lbright a chance for a face-to-face meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi. But, with no warning, he did n't show up at the eight-nation forum.
State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said Albright didn't feel snubbed because the emergency meeting wasn't abou t the U.S.-Iran relationship.
``In our minds, it was not a U.S.-Iran meeting,'' Rubin said. He acknowledged, however, that had Kharazi attended, th ere might have been a chance for Albright to talk with him. That did not occur with the deputy foreign minister, Moha mmad Javad Zarif, who sat between officials from China and Pakistan while the secretary of state was between Turkmeni stan and Uzbekistan.
The seating around a square table was in alphabetical order. Other nations were Russia and Tajikistan.
Rubin said the U.S. motivation for the meeting was ``in getting the neighbors to work together on Afghanistan and not as part of the efforts we've made -- quite clearly -- about our willingness to have a dialogue.''
The State Department is anxiously awaiting a speech Kharazi is scheduled to deliver next Monday to the Asia Society i n New York -- the same place where Albright spoke in June when she suggested renewing diplomatic dialogue.
``We are ready to explore further ways to build mutual confidence and avoid misunderstanding,'' Albright said at the time, calling for Iran to halt its support of terrorism and support international security instead. ``The Islamic Rep ublic should consider parallel steps.''
In the past year, the United States and Iran have promoted cultural and academic exchanges, steps aimed at repairing the dramatic diplomatic rift that began in 1979 when Iranian students held 52 Americans hostage at the U.S. Embassy f or 444 days.
But Iranian hard-liners haven't been happy. And in the United States, several members of Congress last week urged the Clinton administration to refrain from any goodwill gestures toward Khatami or his government. A majority in the Hou se signed a statement urging continued toughness towards Iran.
The meeting on Afghanistan was convened by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to discuss the civil war and the potenti al for a war between Afghanistan and Iran.
The eight countries called for a cease-fire among warring factions, including the Taliban religious militia that now controls 90 percent of Afghanistan.
The so-called six-plus-two group also urged formation of a broad-based government and said Lakhdar Brahimi, the chief U.N. negotiator for Afghanistan, should visit the region to reduce tensions, which me may do next month.
Not included in the talks were diplomats from the Taliban or the nearly overrun government of Burhanuddin Rabbani, wh ich is still recognized as the official representative of Afghanistan at the United Nations.
Rubin said the United States called on other countries to stop supplying arms to Afghanistan, and help in an effort t o stamp out the drug trade, which Washington believes is helping finance the Taliban militia.
The Taliban overran the opposition stronghold Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan on Aug. 8 and killed several Iranian dipl omats. Tehran has massed 200,000 troops at the Afghan border and has conducted intimidating military exercises.
Detained Iran journalists could be executed
TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- An Iranian judge was quoted on
Monday as saying that jailed journalists from a newly banned
liberal newspaper could face the death penalty as "mohareb,"
or "those who fight God."
The comment added to a growing factional dispute over a clampdown by the conservative-dominated judiciary on media that have become more and more adventurous as a result of liberties granted under President Mohammad Khatami.
"If the charges against Tous newspaper are proven in court, its elements are deemed 'mohareb' and the law clearly states the fate of the 'mohareb'," Monday's daily Abrar quoted judge Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei as saying.
Some of Khatami's backers have expressed concern that conservative opponents might take advantage of tension between Iran and the Taliban movement that has taken control of most of neighboring Afghanistan to prune some newly granted freedoms.
An Islamic revolutionary court last week banned Tous for "activities against national security and interests and opposition to the sacred government system of the Islamic Republic."
Newspapers said at least three top staff members of Tous had been detained and two others were being sought by police.
Tous, which often criticized government policies on Afghanistan, had gained wide circulation by testing the limits of the new press freedom.
The closing of Tous, and the reported suspension of the moderate weeklies Rah-e No and Tavana, came shortly after supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called on officials to act against newspapers which he said were "abusing freedom of speech to weaken the people's Islamic beliefs." Vice-President Abdollah Nouri, a key supporter of Khatami's political liberalization, was quoted by the pro-Khatami daily Jahan-e Eslam on Monday as saying: "I am opposed to these methods and believe they will not lead anywhere. These actions are certainly harmful."
Iran's journalists' union and the main pro-Khatami student group also criticised the suspensions and said any violations should be dealt with by a press court.
But a spokesman for the judiciary said the alleged offences went beyond press violations.
"Certain publications reflect viewpoints which point to a set of political and security activities directed against the country's national interests," the daily Kayhan quoted him as saying.
Some 80 conservative parliamentary deputies issued a letter criticizing Cutural and Islamic Guidance Minister Ataollah Mohajerani for his liberal press policies. The conservatives, who control parliament, have often threatened Mohajerani with impeachment.
Rah-e No recently published a controversial series of articles including one by dissident Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri in which he said Khamenei should only supervise state affairs and not have paramount power.
Rah-e No said the articles had been published to encourage debate ahead of the October 23 election of the Assembly of Experts, which names the supreme leader and can dismiss him.
Khatami's government, which came to power last year, has licensed dozens of new publications as well as relaxing censorship on books and films.
Iranian leader denounces terrorism, calls for Afghan talks
UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- Moderate Iranian President Mohammed
Khatami addressed the 53rd United Nations General Assembly on
Monday, calling for reforms in the Security Council, as well
as renewed efforts to curb international terrorism and end
Afghanistan's bloody civil war.
Khatami said his country wants better relations with the
outside world, but also denounced "the fantasy of a unipolar
world" dominated by the United States.
Khatami also called for an end to the veto power exercised by the five permanent members of the Security Council and
proposed that an Islamic country be given a permanent seat.
"The Islamic countries, representing 1 billion and several
million people, should acquire a permanent seat in the United
Nations Security Council with the same privileges." Khatami
Khatami, wearing the flowing black robe and turban of a senior Shiite cleric, blasted the Taliban militia that rules
neighboring Afghanistan, which he called "a haven for
violence, terrorism and the production and trafficking of narcotics."
The Iranian government faces a military standoff with the Taliban, which it blames for the murders of nine Iranian di plomats stationed there. Iran has massed 200,000 troops at the border with Afghanistan amid growing demands for venge ance by mobs of Iranian demonstrators. Khatami called for "expeditious action" to bring the perpetrators to justice and also called on the United Nations " to bring all the parties to the conflict to the negotiating table." The second half of Khatami's speech -- which labeled terrorism as "the product of desperation" and included references to women's rights -- was more conciliatory toward Western views, especially those of the United States.
"We unequivocally oppose ... all forms and manifestations of terrorism, and we shall combat it vigorously and earnestly," Khatami said. "In order to eradicate this menace we shall engage in a serious and transparent international cooperation to combat terrorism." Khatami also called for liberation "from the nightmare of nuclear war and weapons of mass destruction."
"Recent nuclear tests in our region, which have led to a further complication, make such a necessity all the more imperative." he added, in reference to recent nuclear tests in India and Pakistan.
Khatami, whose election in 1997 was largely due to support among women and young Iranians, took issue with "the traditional outlook based on the erroneous notion of superiority of men over women." "Efforts at the global level geared to the promotion and strengthening of respect for women and their rights require a critical reassessment of the traditional and inappropriate views about women," he added. Khatami is among the nearly 30 heads of states, two crown princes and more than 150 other emissaries expected to address the 53rd U.N. General Assembly.