Thursday, August 31, 2006

Ex-leader of Iran to Speak at 2 Muslim Gatherings in Chicago

Cathleen Falsani and Andrew Herrmann, Chicago Sun-Times:
Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami is expected to arrive today in Chicago to speak at two Muslim conventions over the weekend and visit a suburban mosque.

While in town, Khatami is scheduled to deliver a keynote address at the annual Islamic Society of North America's convention Saturday night at the Rosemont Convention Center, said Salman Azam, a spokesman for the convention.

The former Iranian leader may also be on hand for a Friday afternoon session of the ISNA convention, Azam said. Tens of thousands of Muslims are expected to attend the three-day Rosemont convention, which, in its 43rd year, is the largest annual gathering of Muslims in North America.

Invited to 'bring greetings'

W. Deen Mohammed, leader of the largely black Muslim organization the Mosque Cares/WDM Ministry and former leader of the American Society of Muslims, has invited Khatami to "bring greetings" to his annual convention Sunday at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago, said Mohammed's spokesman, Sultan Salahudin.

And Khatami is expected to speak Saturday afternoon at Bait ul Ilm, an Islamic center in Streamwood, according to Tariq Weaver, spokesman for the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago.

The Bush administration granted Khatami, who served as president of Iran from 1997 to 2005, a visa to enter the United States on Tuesday. He is the most senior official from Iran to visit the United States since 1979, when Islamic fundamentalists seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

After visiting Chicago, Khatami is scheduled to attend a United Nations conference in New York City next week, and to speak about religion's role in promoting peace at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 7.

No 'illusions' about regime

Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Chicago, said American Muslims consider Khatami "a kindred spirit in faith." READ MORE

"Khatami has been lauded as a reformist, a bridge-builder,'' Rehab said.

Several lawmakers, including Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who called Khatami "one of the chief propagandists of the Islamic fascist regime," expressed outrage that the Bush administration had granted the Iranian a visa.

While former President Jimmy Carter reportedly expressed an interest in meeting with Khatami, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the Iranian would not meet with any U.S. officials, adding, "Nobody should take the fact that there was a decision to issue this visa that we have any illusions about the nature of the Iranian regime."