Friday, August 25, 2006

A Visa for Khatemi?

The New York Sun: Editorial
An internal fight is under way at the highest levels of the Bush administration over whether to issue a visa to the former president of Iran, Mohammed Khatemi, to visit Washington. Already the National Cathedral and the Council on American Islamic Relations are planning events to welcome the "reformist" Iranian leader who in eight years oversaw a state that actually reversed most of the "reforms" he promised.

Mr. Khatemi is scheduled to speak at a U.N. conference on September 5 and 6 commemorating the sixth anniversary of his 2000 speech promising a "dialogue of civilizations." A man who suggested this term, Ramin Jahanbegloo, is facing espionage charges in Tehran for participating in just such a dialogue. His "crime" was to accept a fellowship at America's National Endowment for Democracy.

Exactly what is the purpose of Mr. Khatemi's visit? The ex-president was in Japan yesterday making the case that the uranium Iranian scientists are enriching at Natanz is meant for peaceful energy. It could be that Mr. Khatemi is coming to New York and Washington to enlist the usual useful idiots to defend his nation's right to nuclear power just after the expiration of the U.N. deadline. READ MORE

But Mr. Khatemi's visit to America could also be an attempt to escape from a regime preparing a purge. Many of the institutions the ex-president did manage to create in his tenure as president have been harassed and shuttered in the last two months. The human rights law center run by a Nobel Peace Prize winner, Shirin Ebadi, was officially shut down in July. Many so-called reformers who stood with Mr. Khatemi's government and participated in its supposed opening to America and the West are now under suspicion in Iran as spies.

If Mr. Khatemi is coming to Washington on a charm offensive, the appropriate response by the Bush administration is to decline the visa request without ceremony and to remind those who sought to fete him that Iran is now at war with America. If Mr. Khatemi truly intends to flee, the White House may want to issue the visa and accept his defection. And if the administration really wants to get creative, it can always seize Mr. Khatemi and detain him as a material witness or prisoner of war until the enemy releases the two Fox News journalists and three Israeli soldiers it is holding captive.