Paris, 10 Sept. (IPS)
As the controversial visit of former Iranian president Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Khatami to the United States comes to its end, political analysts in Iran and elsewhere were not sure about the aim of the trip and above all, to whom the moderate, intellectual Iranian cleric was talking to and whether he had any mission, if not impossible, for the Bush Administration?
The 15 days-ling visit was met with strong denunciations, condemnations, protests and criticism from groups of the Iranian Jewish community in the United States, some die hard Monarchists and the outlawed Mojahedeen Khalq in the one side, American Jewish organizations, conservative lawmakers and neo-coms in the Administration and former hostages on the other, as well as in Iran itself, where hard line personalities and pressures groups went as far as tagging Mr. Khatami as being on the American payroll.
Mrs. Fatemeh Rajabi, the wife of Mr. Qolamhoseyn Elham, President Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezjad’s office and the government official spokesman did not hesitate, in an open letter published on an Iranian website close to the President and the leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i, to call on the clerical hierarchy to defrock Mr. Khatami, a mid-rank cleric, and urged the Foreign Affairs Minister to recall the Iranian ambassador at the United Nations for having hosted a diner for the former president.
Observing that Mr. Khatami was given a VIP treatment at his arrival in New York, taken to his residence without even passing trough the harsh, often humiliating visa controls at American airports for Muslims and passengers coming from the Middle East, Mrs. Rajabi, in her letter, full of venom of hate, abject words, calamitous accusations and indecency, said Mr. Khatami is a “mercenary” of the Americans who went there to get “his rewards for the eights years of implementing American plots disguised as reforms”.
"I was interested to hear what he (Khatami) had to say", Bush told in an interview. "I'm interested in learning more about the Iranian government, how they think, what people think within the government"
Earlier, the hard line daily “Keyhan”, a mouth piece of Mr. Khameneh’i, had told the former president that “it is not time for going to America”, in respect for the tens of prominent Iranian scholars and alumni of one of the best Iranian technical universities who had seen their visas cancelled at their arrival at California airports last month, without any explanation, turned back after being kept in degrading conditions at airport’s detention centres, their wives sharing same cells as prostitutes.
But what angered more the Iranian radicals who have the upper hands on the nation’s policies, was the warm welcome he received from American Muslims and the media, as, on one of his speeches in Chicago, more than 10.000 people, most of them Muslims, rushed to listen to him, advising peace and tolerance.
For some Iranian political analysts, Khatami might have been authorized to go to the United States by the leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i in order to attenuate damages provoked by the fanatic Ahmadi Nezhad, at a time that the Iranian nuclear case is in a very sensitive state, with possible economic sanctions by the United Nations Security Council hanged as a Damocles sword over Tehran.
“Like a circus virtuous, Khameneh’i handles several water melons at the same time, not leaving the time for the bemused onlookers to realize which one is what. Ahmadi Nezhad the bad cop, Khatami the good one etc… He is like Brother Theo in Bernard Wolfe’s master piece “Limbo”, commented one veteran Iranian journalist asking not be named.
However, in an unusual statement, President George W. Bush said he personally had approved visa facilities for the former president.
"I was interested to hear what he (Khatami) had to say", Bush told “The Wall Street Journal” in an interview. "I'm interested in learning more about the Iranian government, how they think, what people think within the government".
"And in order for diplomacy to work, it's important to hear voices other than current President Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad's", Bush pointed out, while branding Iran's governing president a "tyrant" and promising that he would do “everything” to deny the Islamic Republic nuclear weapons.
In Iran, the post of presidency is a euphemism, since all decisions are taken or approved by the leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i, and the president and his government executes his decisions and guidelines, Mr. Khatami stressed, in an obvious effort to satisfy the eagerness of Mr. Bush.
In sharp contrast to hawkish, anti-American, anti-Israeli, anti-Western statements now familiar trades mark of Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad" Mr. Khatami said there should be a change from aggressive rhetoric to the "language of understanding" before there can be a dialogue between Washington and Tehran.
“I personally believe that he (Ahmadi Nezhad) really didn't deny the existence of Holocaust. I believe the Holocaust is the crime of Nazism. But it is possible that the Holocaust, which is an absolute fact, a historical fact, would be misused. The Holocaust should not be, in any way, an excuse for the suppression of Palestinian rights”, Mr. Khatami said in answer to a question from the newsmagazine “Time” asking what he thinks about his successor denying the massacre of millions of Jews and his desire to “wipe Israel off the map”.
Khatami: In Iran, the post of presidency is a euphemism, since all decisions are taken or approved by the leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i, Mr. Khatami stressed
In his interview with Time magazine, Khatami said his opposition to Israel is “moral” and stressed that the “peaceful solution to the problem of Palestine is to recognize Palestinian rights. This is the only way there could be sustained peace in the region”.
TIME: And a Palestinian state to exist alongside Israel?
On Iran-US relations, cut after the seizure of American embassy in Tehran on November 1979 by a group of so-called Iranian Islamic revolutionary students who took 55 American diplomats and staff hostage for 444 days, Mr. Khatami said “I believe that before there can be some basis for talks between senior American and Iranian officials, misunderstandings between the two countries should be removed," he said. "Unfortunately, these misunderstandings have a historical aspect. Naturally both sides have complaints; some are justified and some are not. We should be ready for talks based on mutual respect and equal rights".
“I regret the hostage crisis, hostage-taking. And I sympathize with the hostages and their families for their loss and their hurt. But this was [also] a revolutionary reaction to half a century of the U.S. taking Iran hostage. Maybe the other side [the U.S.] would be more indebted [to Iran]”, he told the Magazine that carried a rather lengthy, but comprehensive interview, which might help Mr. Bush better understand the present Iran and its complex complexities.
Speaking in the Washington Cathedral that had invited him, Khatami, who served as Iran’s president from 1997 to 2005, called for "dialogue among people of different races and cultures and civilizations, including between Iranian and the American people".
"In the beginning I would like to say that we -- the followers of Abraham faiths -- should more than ever cooperate to expand peace in the world and fight against violence and tools of violence", he said, adding Christians, Muslims, and Jews should work together to foster peace and friendship and renewed his call for the Middle East to be free of weapons of mass destruction. He said countries with nuclear weapons, such as Israel, India, and Pakistan, should join the NPT.
Khatami, whose efforts to introduce some democratic changes in Iran were stymied by conservatives, said, "Democracy is a process, not a project".
"I think the Iranian society is moving in that direction, [though] it is facing problems and obstacles. There are conservatives and moderates in all societies but I believe all societies, including Iran, are moving toward moderation and democracy", Khatami said.
During his U.S. tour, Khatami, the former president who now leads a non governmental International Centre for Dialogue Among Civilisations, attended a UN conference and other religious and academic events in several cities, including New York and Chicago also has criticized U.S. President George W. Bush and said that U.S. policies are fueling terrorism.
Khatami: If there are serious concerns about nuclear weapons, we should start by eliminating those that already exist. And the U.S. does not display any sensitivity whatsoever to these issues, to these nuclear weapons
“The (US) President should dispense peace and justice and reconciliation across the world. I believe that not only have U.S. policies not stopped terrorism, they have actually exacerbated and increased the problem.
Khatami: We could have resolved the Iraq issue without invasion and occupation without the cost in terms of human life, American lives, Iraqi lives and money. This could have been resolved. If the U.S. had not had such a sense of conceit and pride, or maybe even arrogance.
TIME: And the withdrawal of U.S. troops?
Khatami: The occupation should end as soon as possible [but] I believe we cannot just leave this newly born democratic government to the hands of terrorists, insurgents and people who are seeking violence. The best way is to strengthen and to support the government, its security services, its police forces, and the best way to do that is also to get help from neighboring countries. The U.S. should know that it could get the help of Arab and Islamic countries to secure its interests, rather than without them.
TIME: The U.S. has accused Iran of trying to build a nuclear weapon, and Iran has denied this. Is there a way out?
Khatami: Concern about proliferation is definitely justified. But in this region there are three states that possess nuclear weapons, with hundreds of warheads. The biggest [arsenal] is Israel. And then Pakistan and India. If there are serious concerns about nuclear weapons, we should start by eliminating those that already exist. And the U.S. does not display any sensitivity whatsoever to these issues, to these nuclear weapons. None of the three have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but Iran has. Iran has the right to have access to nuclear energy. And we are ready to give every guarantee that we would use this for peaceful purposes. Our leader has issued a decree prohibiting the production and the stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction.
TIME: Do you believe that a military attack on Iran, either by Israel or the U.S., is a possibility that Iran should take seriously and guard against?
Khatami: Any aggression against Iran would have costs, serious costs for the U.S., more than for Iran. Public opinion in the world, and a great majority of the American public, would not support a military engagement.
TIME: Anything else?
Khatami: I don't claim that there have never been human rights violations in Iran, but I also believe human rights are being violated everywhere, with different names
Khatami: In Iran, whenever the issue is Iran's territorial integrity, no political faction, no political group would have any doubt as to defending Iran's actions. This unity and national consensus would be really costly for the invader and aggressor.
TIME: President Bush has promised that the U.S. will try to impose sanctions on Iran through the Security Council in the near future, if this matter is not resolved. What would be the result?
Khatami: Experience has shown that threats, pressure and coercion has never created a solution, has never made sanctions effective. Sanctions, and even more than that, possible military action and the use of force, would create more crisis in Iran, for the region, and for the world.
TIME: How do you explain charges from the U.S. and other critics that there were human rights violations, terrorism and a buildup of Iran's nuclear program when you were president?
Khatami: I don't claim that there have never been human rights violations in Iran, but I [also] believe human rights are being violated everywhere, with different names. I believe the violation of rights of prisoners in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib is not compatible — everybody should condemn the violation of human rights, everywhere. Double standards will not help.
TIME: When you were president of Iran, you used to complain, publicly, that you couldn't implement some of your reforms domestically and you couldn't take certain actions in foreign policy. Who stopped you? Was it hardliners who are now in control of Iran?
Khatami: I think democracy is a process. And this is especially [true] when there is external pressure, and dangers, the threat to the internal integrity of the nation. Definitely, there are people who have been theoretically against me, but when a major power explicitly says that it intends to overthrow a government...
TIME: Are you talking about the U.S.?
Khatami: Let me not [use] names. Those who officially put in their budgets money to overthrow the Iranian government — it's natural that the constraints on freedom and openness will increase as a result of a security environment [like that].
He was referring to the 75 to 85 millions US Dollars the American Administrations has provided for “regime change” in Iran by organizing Iranian groups opposed to the Islamic Republic and enhancing US-sponsored media and Iranian radio and television stations most of them based in Los Angeles. ENDS KHATAMI US TOUR 10906