Monday, August 28, 2006

Ex-President of Iran Is Due To Parley at United Nations

Eli Lake, The New York Sun:
With Iran on the military offensive, its ex-president is scheduled to address a U.N. conference next week as part of a charm offensive that may extend to Washington — if the White House lets him have a visa.

Mohammed Khatemi is scheduled to speak September 5 and 6 as part of the United Nations's Alliance of Civilizations project. But the preparations for his visit come amid a round of military exercises in Iran. Yesterday, an Iranian naval commander announced the successful test of a new submarine-to-surface missile, and on Saturday, President Ahmadinejad attended the opening of a heavy-water uranium enrichment facility.

In addition to the Turtle Bay conference, hosted by the socialist government of Spain and the Islamist government of Turkey, Mr. Khatemi has been invited to speak September 7 at the Washington National Cathedral's Center for Global Justice and Reconciliation. The Council on American-Islamic Relations also has asked him to speak at its annual convention September 8.

In light of the military news coming out of Iran — which appears to be in defiance of the U.N. Security Council's Thursday deadline for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment — the State Department and White House may be leaning against giving Mr. Khatemi the visa he would need to travel outside New York.

"He informed us through the Iranian mission in New York City of his intent to visit here and give speeches around the country, and we've been debating the merits ever since," a Bush administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity told The New York Sun. "I wouldn't say there's any real advocate for his coming. No one wants him here. The real question is whether we lose more in terms of international leverage by denying him a visit. That's being weighed, not debated." READ MORE

One Democratic congressman already is urging the State Department to deny Mr. Khatemi a visa. Rep. Brad Sherman, a Democrat of California, wrote to Secretary of State Rice on Friday and asked her not to grant a visa to Mr. Khatemi, who won two Iranian presidential elections on a campaign of reforms his initial supporters have said he did not deliver.

"A visit by the so-called reformist president would no doubt be utilized for maximum propaganda benefit by the Iranian government in the current standoff over Iran's nuclear program," Mr. Sherman wrote. He added that should Mr. Khatemi be granted a visa, "he and any members of his delegation should be fingerprinted and photographed, given a rigorous interview, and their names sent through the myriad terrorist and security databases by consular, DHS, law enforcement and intelligence community officials."

In the letter, Mr. Sherman contended that Iran's support for terrorism did not lessen during Mr. Khatemi's tenure, between 1997 and 2005. Some analysts allege that in his first government position as minister of culture in 1984, Mr. Khatemi played a role in the founding of Hezbollah.

Nonetheless, Mr. Khatemi shook hands with President Katsav of Israel at the funeral of Pope John Paul II in 2005. And in her memoir, President Clinton's secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, wrote that Iran secretly offered to support the Oslo talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 1999. During this period, however, Iran's Revolutionary Guard, which the Iranian president does not control, maintained its support for Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, two terrorist groups that rejected the Oslo peace process.

The last Israeli ambassador to Iran while the shah was in power and a current adviser to his country's Ministry of Defense, Uri Lubrani, said yesterday that Mr. Khatemi's visit was part of Iran's psychological war against the West.

"Iran is waging this psychological war to distract attention about their negative reaction to the offer from the international community. Khatemi always shows the smiling face of the regime. Very rarely he shows his fangs. He is being used by the regime in order to distract the attention of the international community to the European and American demand," Mr. Lubrani said.

A spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Ibrahim Hooper, said his organization invited Mr. Khatemi to speak in an effort to reduce tensions between Iran and America. "Given the tensions that seem to be growing between Iran and the United States, it is vital the lines of communications are open between the two nations, and this is one way to keep them open," he said.

Mr. Hooper said he expects the former Iranian president to receive a visa and that his organization has no position on Iran's nuclear program.

If Mr. Khatemi does receive a visa, some Iranian-Americans are planning to protest his visit. One of the organizers from the Alliance of Iranian Women, Manda Ervin, said she has already reserved space across from the National Cathedral for the demonstrations. "The only signs we will carry will be ones calling for regime change," she said.

"This is about the good cop and the bad cop," she added. "Ahmadinejad is the bad cop. Khatemi is the good cop. And they are doing this because they want the bomb."