Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Visa Not Denied: On Mohammad Khatami’s upcoming visit to the United States.

The National Review Online:
An NRO Symposium

On Tuesday, as Iran’s current president made clear he has no intention of complying with a U.N. resolution to halt its nuclear program, the U.S. issued a visa to his immediate predecessor, Mohammad Khatami. Should the visa have been issued? Was issuing it the exact wrong message for the U.S. to send Iran right now? Or is there some brilliant diplomacy somewhere at work here? National Review Online asked a group of experts to assess the situation. READ MORE

Anne Bayefsky
U.S.-Iran policy, spearheaded by Nicholas Burns and Secretary of State Rice, is a train to nowheresville, literally. That’s what the world will look like (starting with the hole in the ground that was once Israel) when Iran has acquired nuclear weapons. Iran has no intention of stopping its nuclear weapons program voluntarily. Only a program of serious consequences, swiftly implemented, in response to its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction will prevent the catastrophe that looms before us.

We know that serious sanctions will not be forthcoming through the U.N. Security Council. China and Russia have made their views on the subject quite clear. But let’s replay the words of Secretary Rice on May 10, 2006. Either Iran can accept a path to a civil nuclear program, she said, or “Iran can defy the international community and face isolation.” And again on May 31, 2006: “It’s a moment of truth for Iran.” Tough talk — but the problem is that nobody takes American huffing and puffing seriously anymore.

Courtesy of the United States, Iranian proxy Hezbollah has just won a U.N. resolution permitting it to regroup and rearm to fight another day. Iran itself has been further emboldened by a resolution that does not even mention Iran, as if the war had nothing to do with it. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has been anointed to administer “peace” between Israel and those who want to annihilate the Jewish state. But Annan thinks those who share that destructive goal — and hail from states having no diplomatic relations with Israel — would make good members of his international “peacekeeping” force. Annan himself is now headed to Iran to further cement U.N. ties with terrorists, after his discussions with Hezbollah ministers in Lebanon. One wonders if he is planning to take in “the Holocaust is a joke” cartoon exhibit now playing in Tehran.

The U.S. visa to former Iranian President Khatami — who wasn’t exactly AWOL during the buildup of Iran’s nuclear program — is not an isolated event. As the pattern of all talk and no action takes hold, this move too will undercut any demand to the international community for immediate, serious sanctions on Iran. If we aren’t prepared to isolate Iran, why should anyone else?

— Anne Bayefsky is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and at Touro College Law Center. She is also editor of

Pooya Dayanim
The issuance of a United States visa to Mohammad Khatami, the former president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, is an insult to the American people, a slap in the face of Iran’s pro-democracy movement, a mockery of the immigration and antiterrorism laws, and a continuation of the schizophrenic non-policy of the State Department. To see him here, in both New York and Washington, D.C., cities attacked five years ago, will be heartbreaking.

Mohammad Khatami was the president of Iran between the years of 1997 and 2004. The State Department listed Iran as the number-one state sponsor of terrorism during those years. Among other things, during the Khatami years, Iran refused to hand over to the United States the Iranian intelligence officials who supervised the attack on the Khobar towers that killed American soldiers. Khatami continues to support Hezbollah, Hamas, and has called for the destruction of the state of Israel.

During the Khatami era, freedom of press and assembly was relaxed by the Iranian intelligence and security apparatus to lull the reformists and true democrats into a false sense of security; thousands and thousands of students, journalists, women, clerics, and women started to express their opinions freely. For their foolish faith, many of them would pay. Khatami was president during the biggest crackdown on the Iranian media since the beginning of the Iranian revolution. Khatami was president when Jews were sent to prison on charges of espionage. Khatami was president when Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi was killed and Khatami was president when thousands of university students were arrested after the 1999 student rioting. I could go on.

While Khatami gets ready to feast at the banquets being thrown in his honor, Ahmad Batebi, the hero of the 1999 student movement, must prepare himself for another day of torture and beatings in solitary confinement.

In 1999, I met with an Iran desk officer in the State Department. On the door of his office was a cartoon. The cartoon depicted an executioner holding a bloody chainsaw while wearing a smiley face. The caption read: “Khatami’s Iran.” I asked why was it that the State Department did not do something about Iran. I was told that the Clinton administration was distracted by other issues but that one day the schizophrenic approach towards Iran would end.

We’re still waiting.

— Pooya Dayanim is the president of the Iranian Jewish Public Affairs Committee (IJPAC). He is the past director of foreign affairs of the Iran referendum movement.

Michael Ledeen
Giving Khatami prestigious platforms all over America is a dumb move, and it will enormously discourage the Iranian people. For those who believed Bush is serious about regime change, this is a numbing blow. Would FDR have given Goebbels a visa while the Reich was attacking Czechoslovakia?

Whatever the intent, this looks like blatant appeasement and the people in the Middle East will certainly “understand” it that way.

Khatami is very much a member of the clerical fascist regime. He was the empty vessel into which the Iranian people poured their dreams of freedom when they elected him; now he couldn’t win an election for dog catcher. He presided over brutal repression, including the grisly murders of the Forouhars in 1978 and the mass murders and arrests of student demonstrators a year later.

Alas, this confirms my worst fears about this administration. Talk, talk, talk, but when it is time to act, they are still talking. Or rearranging the deck chairs over at the Pentagon in the middle of a war.

— Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. He is resident scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute.

Faith J. H. McDonnell
It is not out of character for CAIR to host mass murdering Iranian ex-president Mohammad Khatami. But should we be surprised that the National Episcopal Cathedral has chosen an Islamist mullah whose goal is the destruction of Israel, under whose regime persecution of Christians flourished, and who ruthlessly repressed Muslim reformers in Iran, to speak about the role of the three "Abrahamic faiths" in promoting peace? Sadly, no, this absurdity is not surprising. The Cathedral and the U.S. Episcopal Church leadership in general have made appeasement and denial tenets of their particular version of faith for some time.

In 1994, the Institute on Religion and Democracy helped lead an international campaign for Iranian Christian leader Haik Hovsepian Mehr, whose speaking out about the death sentence given to a convert from Islam had resulted in his own abduction. Our prayer vigil was at the Iranian interest section of another embassy, just a few blocks from the Cathedral. But this “House of Prayer for All People” has never been a House of Prayer to condemn the evil of persecution, anti-Semitism, and Islamofacism. Rather, it has dismissed the persecuted as unsophisticated or mentally inferior, and sponsored dialogues with the persecutors. — Faith J. H. McDonnell is director of religious-liberty programs at the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

Gary Metz
The State Department that calls Hezbollah a terrorist organization granted on Tuesday a visa to the man who presided over the creation of Hezbollah, the former president of the Islamic Republic, Mohammad Khatami.

The smiling Khatami’s so-called “reformist” movement is dead. He promised he would “reform” the government while remaining committed to “the rule of the clerics.” He lost his popular support when his government murdered or jailed its dissidents and proved unable to make even modest reforms. Last year his movement died when Iranians refused to vote any longer for candidates pre-selected by the regime.

Now he is coming to the U.S. for a “dialogue with the West.” But the regime’s very purpose is to replace a world dominated by the U.S. with their version of Islamic justice. He can no more offer an end to Iran’s one sided war with the U.S. than U.S. officials can negotiate away our commitment to freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.

Fortunately, Khatami said Monday that he will not come if he is subjected to the normal fingerprinting of Iranians visiting America. Someone needs to make it clear that the man, who presided over the creation of a terrorist organization that until 9/11 killed more Americans than any other, will at least be fingerprinted. He should be arrested.

— Gary Metz is editor of Regime Change Iran.

Laurent Murawiec
Granting a visa to a prominent representative of an enemy nation while, by its own pronouncements, actions, and its long-standing practice, that nation’s government is at war with us? Whoever issued it clearly assumed that the beneficiary could sway his peers in a direction we desire.

Unfortunately, Khatami was not able to do that even when he nominally was president of Iran. He just gave the impression that he wished to. Our policy cannot be based on impressions gleaned years ago from an ineffectual figurehead. Iran’s nuclear program did not start with Ahmadinejad, but under the “moderate” Rafsanjani, who also called for the nuclear eradication of Israel, just as Khomeini before him. Iran’s nuclear program continued unabated under Khatami. We cannot invent a pseudo-faction of “moderates” amongst the ayatollahs just because some of us would rather look the other way and pretend it is not so.

Judgments regarding Iran must be based on the nature of its regime, from Khomeini to today’s Guide Khamenei and Ahmadinejad: the regime of the Islamic Revolution is apocalyptic, millenarian, eschatological. It wishes for the apocalypse that will bring forward the coming of the Mahdi, who will in turn win the great battle with Satan that will extend Allah’s writ to the entire earth. It devoutly believes that the nuclear Holocaust where Israel would perish would hugely advance the timetable of reappearance of the Twelfth Iman, the Mahdi.

This creed overrides reality in the strategic perspective of the regime: Tehran is not an actor rationally working in the national interest of Iran and the Iranians. It is serving its ideological mania. It sacrificed hundreds of thousands of Iran’s children, blown to smithereens as they walked to clear Iraqi minefields, with certificates of good Islamic conduct around their necks — by a regime content to expedite them to Paradise. If they do that to their own kids, what of the rest of the world? The Tehran regime recently gambled with the existence of Lebanon just to test Israel’s defenses.

For years, Tehran has been stringing the diplomats along. With her head on the chopping block, Madame du Barry was begging the executioner to give her one more minute. The diplomats beg. But there are no forces within the Tehran regime with which we can negotiate, and wjp might divert Iran from its course of acquiring nuclear weapons.

— Laurent Murawiec is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

James A. Phillips
It was a major error to issue a visa to former Iranian President Khatami at a time when Iran is defiantly thumbing its nose at the U.S. and the U.N. Security Council regarding its nuclear weapons program. Although Khatami put a softer face on Iran’s blood-soaked revolutionary regime, Iran’s nuclear program flourished during his eight years in power. While calling for a “dialogue of civilizations” Khatami turned a deaf ear to Iranian student reformers who called for long-overdue reforms in Iran but were beaten, imprisoned, and murdered when their peaceful demonstrations were violently crushed in 1999.

Although widely portrayed as a lovable liberal in the Western media, Khatami fully shares the long term goals of Ayatollah Khomeini’s radical revolution. During the recent fighting in Lebanon, he called Hezbollah — the terrorist organization that has killed more Americans than any other group except al Qaeda — a shining sun that illuminates and warms the hearts of all Muslims and supporters of freedom in the world.”

In addition, while in America, Khatami is slated to attend a fundraising dinner for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a radical Islamist organization that has served as an apologist for Middle Eastern terrorist groups. It is difficult to understand how issuing the visa serves American national interests in confronting Iran’s nuclear program or winning the war on terrorism.

— James A. Phillips is research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at the Heritage Foundation.

Rev. Keith Roderick
Mohammad Khatami was the president of Iran when that country was identified by President Bush as one of the three in the “Axis of Evil.” Have the secretary of State and the president been advised of a miraculous conversion by Khatami that has earned him a visa to travel and speak throughout the United States? There were only superficial changes during the years of the Smiling Mullah’s presidency; he was no less entrenched in the insidious fascist system of the Islamic Republic than the other ruling members of the religious establishment. Khatami ruled over the largest repression of the media and the student democratic movement in the Iranian Islamic Republic’s history.

The administration is preparing a back-up plan in the event that China and Russia do not accept sanctions on Iran in response to the repudiation of the U.N. Security Council deadline for Iran to end its nuclear program. That plan calls for the restriction of travel for the Iranian regime. One would imagine that an emissary, such as the former president Khatami, would be included in such a policy. If the right hand is planning to restrict travel, why is the left hand offering a visa and the opportunity for the Iranians to capitalize on the propaganda and to create confusion by promoting its former president? This is the same president, by the way, who is in lock-step with Iran’s present government in promoting its nuclear program. One can see where Iran has something to gain, but what is the benefit for the U.S.?

As an Episcopal/Anglican clergyman, I am appalled, but not surprised, by the National Cathedral’s invitation for Khatami to participate in a “dialogue on the role of the Jews, Christians, and Muslims to achieve peace. The forum is destined to be only monologue. Dialogue takes two. Where are the voices of the others, the victims who suffered under the presidency of Mohammad Khatami? During his presidency, the Anglican Church and its leadership in Iran all but disappeared. What is the logic of celebrating the person, ideals, and regime that have been so responsible for the destruction of the Cathedral’s co-religionists in Iran?

— The Rev. Keith Roderick is Christian Solidarity International’s Washington Representative, secretary general for the Coalition for the Defense of Human Rights, and Episcopal Canon for Persecuted Christians.

James S. Robbins
It would be a brilliant move if President Bush or one of his chief foreign-affairs officials took the opportunity to really challenge Khatami in a public setting, something along the lines of the 1959 Nixon-Khruschev “kitchen debate” but better managed. And the emphasis should not be on the nuclear issue alone, but also, even primarily, on the aspirations of the Iranian people to be free, and the fear of the regime to allow the Iranians to experience true political freedom. Take Khatami on a tour of the Washington Post and ask him why the regime is shutting down independent media in Iran, that kind of thing. Put him on the spot in a dramatic way. But I fear if there is any criticism of Iran offered it will be limited to the technicalities of the nuclear issue, and presented in the same old stilted fashion. So the Iranian people will think we don’t care about their liberties, and the regime will know it for sure.

— James S. Robbins is author of Last in Their Class: Custer, Picket and the Goats of West Point. Robbins is also an NRO contributor.

Michael Rubin
By granting a visa to Mohammad Khatami, the Bush administration handed the Islamic Republic a propaganda coup. Journalists will fawn and diplomats celebrate Khatami’s talk of tolerance. They will be complicit in projecting a false image of the regime Khatami still represents.

Khatami’s reality is the inverse of his image. To Western audiences, he speaks of tolerance; in Persian, he urges Iranians to mobilize for war. While he maximized the diplomatic gains by calling for dialogue, he channeled the fruits of engagement to different aims.

He constrains dialogue. While the State Department issued 22,000 visas for Iranians in 1997, the year of the call to dialogue, Khatami reciprocated with only 880 tourist visas for Americans. He showed less tolerance for dialogue among his own constituents. In April 2000, Iranian journalists, speculating on the reason for the government ban on the daily Arya, hinted that the penalty was due to the paper’s mention of a series of hangings of political prisoners in 1988, a time when Khatami was the armed forces’ deputy director of ideological affairs.

Perhaps, the Bush administration felt constrained by international opinion. But why concede? What better time to fight back and remind Europeans that, when dealing with Iran, it is important to focus on deeds rather than words.

— Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is co-author (with Patrick Clawson) of Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos.

Rick Santorum
This seems at best foolish and at worst misguided. Mohammed Khatami is one of the chief propagandists of the Islamic Fascist regime. We are offering free speech to a man whose government was called "the greatest predator of free press in the Middle East" by Reporters Without Frontiers. We are welcoming a man who presided over many brutal murders and mass incarceration of people whose only crime was calling for greater freedom.

He has deceived many naïve people into believing that he stands for genuine reform, and that he is a reasonable intellectual with whom productive dialogue is possible. The Iranian people know better. I recently met with a brave student movement leader, Amir Abbas Fakhravar, who had escaped from the Iranian dungeons. His profound wish is that the United States Government be strong, consistent and outspoken about our support of freedom for the Iranian people. Unhappily, this action moves in the opposite direction.

I am opposed to granting a visa to such a man so that he can travel around the United States and mislead the American people. We should insist, at a minimum, that the Iranian people can hear free American voices. Iran is frightened of freedom. They are jamming our radio and television broadcasts, and tearing down television satellite dishes in all the major cities of the country. It seems only fair that we be able to speak to the Iranians suffering under a regime of which Mohammed Khatami is an integral part.

— Rick Santorum is a United States senator from Pennsylvania.

Nina Shea
President Mohammad Khatami is best remembered in U.N. circles, not for human-rights conditions in Iran during his tenure, which were so abominable they were repeatedly condemned by the international body, but for a speech calling for a dialogue among the world’s civilizations and cultures. Thanks to Khatami, who proposed it, at the U.N. the year 2001 is known by the Orwellian designation, “The Year of Dialogue among Civilizations.” This week, Khatami will be back at the U.N. to expound on this theme of dialogue.

He will also embark on a propaganda tour of American campuses and be the honored guest speaker at the National Episcopal Cathedral in Washington. He will use these events to try to mobilize American support for holding a dialogue with Iran — dialogue without conditions of course, just as the current president of Iran favors in the current nuclear crisis.

Iran’s reform movement, which at first counted Khatami among their own, ended up bitterly denouncing him for not merely being ineffective as president of Iran, but for willingly serving as a democratic façade for its oppressive system. He will now be shilling for Iran’s hardline rulers directly with the American public. Khatami’s American travel beyond the diplomatic radius of the U.N. is made possible by a special U.S. visa, the first ever issued to someone of his rank from revolutionary Iran.

It is worth remembering that, Khatami’s insistence on dialogue between cultures notwithstanding, there has been none of it in revolutionary Iran. In addition to being listed as a terrorist state, and one of the triumvirates of the “axis of evil,” Khatami’s Iran was designated by the United States government as a “Country of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act — that is, one of the world’s worst religious persecutors. All of Iran’s religious minorities — Bahaiis, Assyrian Christians, Catholics, Anglicans, Armenians, Evangelicals, Mandeans, Jews, and Zoroastrians — have suffered. Their numbers have steadily dwindled as they have fled religious oppression in their homeland; the presence of the ancient Assyrians and Mandeans is approaching statistical insignificance.

The Bahai, who started as a reformist movement within Shiite Islam in Iran in the early 19th century, are seen as heretics. Over 200 of their leaders have been killed by the government, while some ten thousand have been purged from government employment and schools. They have had no rights to property, and can’t officially marry or be buried in their religion. According to law, their blood is “Mobah” — it can be spilled with impunity and no one can be punished for murdering them.

The other Abrahamic faiths, officially “protected” by the state, are forced to abide by Islamic rules and live in great insecurity. Christian and Jewish grocery shop owners have been required to post their religion on their store fronts. Jews, whose numbers have been reduced to about a third of their pre-1979 population, have faced relentless state-sponsored anti-Semitism. Some were arrested and put on trial for spying for Israel under Khatami, until being later freed after international protest. Christians have been vulnerable to apostasy charges, with some imprisoned and others killed by government-linked death squads.

But the persecution that is the hallmark of Iran’s theocratic regime affects not only non-Muslim minorities. Muslims who do not subscribe to Iran’s state doctrine of Jafari (Twelver) Shiism have also been subject to bigotry and persecution. Sunnis and Sufis have regularly been discriminated against and banned from teaching their religion, as well as, on occasion, detained and tortured for their religious beliefs. Those Shiites who dare to dissent from state orthodoxy, too, have been arrested and tried for the capital offense of blasphemy, for the “crime of thinking,” as one Iranian Shiite reformist teacher said at his 2004 trial. Hundreds of newspapers have been shut down and many writers and journalists punished, with some even killed, for their views under Khatami. Shiite women have been harshly restricted and treated as inferiors under state-enforced religious law. Cases of women stoned for adultery surfaced during Khatami’s tenure.

When Khatami speaks next week at the National Cathedral, do not expect tough questions to be put to him about the lack of dialogue among cultures or religious freedom within Iran. It will be a tightly controlled affair to provide a platform for this “man of peace and moderation,” as Khatami was referred to by an organizer for the Cathedral. It will not be open to protestors and concerned citizens. The State Department has advised the National Cathedral to make the event exclusive, “invitation only.”

— Nina Shea is director of the Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House.

Amir Taheri
We should not allow the Khatami visa issue to sideline us from the real issue, which is the Islamic Republic’s strategy to terrorize the Iranian people, defy the international community, and spread its Islamofascist ideology to other Muslim countries.

There is no harm in letting Khatami come to Washington to be exposed to pubic scrutiny.

This may well provide an opportunity for the U.S. media to ask Khatami about the atrocities committed by his administration, including the assassination of dissidents, the arrest and torture of thousands of people, including trade unionists and student leaders, the closing of over 150 newspapers and magazines, the banning of hundreds of books and dozens of films, the arming of the Hezbollah in Lebanon, shipping weapons to Yasser Arafat’s terror units and Islamic Jihad, and providing the Jaish al-Mahdi in Iraq with money and arms.

Let us not forget that it was during Khatami's administration that the Islamic Republic speeded up its nuclear program to acquire the so-called “surge capacity” needed for manufacturing atomic warheads.

Khatami would also have to explain whether or not he still regards Hassan Nasrallah, leader of he Lebanese branch of Hezbollah, as “The Sun of Islam shining over the world,” as he put it in a message on July 15.

What is important is to make sure that the U.S. media have the courage to raise those questions.

It seems that some American political figures, including former President Jimmy Carter, are queuing up to meet Khatami. That is no bad thing, either. All politics is about choice. By begging to meet the head of one of the most repressive regimes in the world, Carter would simply show whose side he is on. Having refused to meet Iranian dissidents, and rejected repeated calls for statements in support of Iranian trade unionists, student leaders, persecuted minorities, and political prisoners, Carter is precisely the person who should hang around with people like Khatami.

— Iranian-born Amir Taheri is editor of Politique Internationale, France's leading foreign-policy journal.