Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Iran's ex-president asks for US visa

Sue Pleming, Reuters:
Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami applied on Tuesday for a U.S. visa to give a speech in Washington next month but the State Department said it had not decided whether to allow him to come.

The visa application to speak at Washington's National Cathedral on September 7 comes as Iran's government is in a diplomatic standoff with the United States and many of its allies over Tehran's nuclear program, which world powers want scrapped.

"We have received a visa application from the former Iranian president today," said a State Department spokesman, who declined to be named because of the sensitive nature of the issue.

Asked whether Washington would grant the visa, he replied: "We will not speculate in advance about the outcome of any visa application." READ MORE

If allowed to come, Khatami would be the most high-profile Iranian to visit Washington since ties were severed between the two countries after the 1979 Islamic revolution and 52 Americans were held hostage in the U.S. embassy for 444 days.

The visa application was made on the same day as Iran gave a response to a nuclear incentives offer from major powers and said it contained ideas that would allow serious talks about its nuclear standoff with the West to start immediately.

The State Department, which has said previously that talks can only be held if Iran suspends its enrichment activities, declined comment on Tehran's response and said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had returned from vacation to examine the reply.


The U.N. Security Council -- frustrated with Iran's slow response to the incentives offer made by Britain, Germany, France, China, the United States and Russia in June -- has given Tehran to August 31 to freeze enrichment or face possible sanctions.

Washington's National Cathedral confirmed that Khatami, whose reformist government ceded power last year to current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had been asked to give a public address at an event organized by the cathedral's Center for Global Justice and Reconciliation but there was no indication whether he would get a visa.

"He (Khatami) has agreed to attend and he is happy to come and speak at our event," said an official at the cathedral, who asked not to be named as she was not authorized to speak to the media.

The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that the Bush administration planned to grant Khatami the visa but the White House declined comment and referred queries on the issue to the State Department.

The dean of Washington's National Cathedral was quoted in the Washington Post as saying it would be an honor to provide a platform for Khatami.

"President Khatami's commitment to a dialogue between civilizations and cultures is an important component in the peace process. This is much needed in the world today," Rev. Samuel Lloyd was quoted as saying in the paper.

Before visiting Washington, the cathedral said Khatami was set to attend a U.N. conference in New York led by the prime ministers of Spain and Turkey.

There are strict restrictions in place for any Iranians wanting to visit the United States, except for at the United Nations where Iranian diplomats can travel only within a very limited area.