Bahai News - James P. Rubin, State Department Spokesman
James P. Rubin, State Department Spokesman
Excerpt from the Daily Press Briefing
Department of State Press Briefing Room
Washington, DC, February 14, 2000

Question: If nobody has questions on that, I'd like to try a few things on Iran with you. The new threats against Salmon Rushdie, for instance, groups associated with the supreme leader. The administration keeps holding out hopes of moderation in Iran. Maybe it's a confused picture, but would you deal with that, if you could? There were threatened executions of Baha'is. I don't know the status of the Jews now. Three or four of them have been released, but more were supposed to be--not the accusation lifted against them but, you know, released from jail temporarily.

Could you deal with the situation in Iran and give us your insight?

Mr. Rubin: First of all, our views on Iran are based on the idea that a dialogue with Iran is the best way to resolve problems in our relationship. Those problems include terrorism. They include opposition to the Middle East Peace Process, and human rights issues like these. So the fact that we want to talk to Iran about these issues doesn't mean that we believe that they have moderated behavior in these areas. Obviously, there has been improvement in terms of the free press that exists in Iran and the elections that have been held and are to be held, and there has been major developments in that area. And by recognizing those, we are not suggesting we don't have problems with other actions.

With respect to the Baha'i, the White House issued a statement on Friday on that. Let me just say we first spoke publicly of this case in October when the initial sentences of death were made public. These sentences have now been reaffirmed. As far as we can tell, these individuals are being persecuted for the mere practice of their faith. They were first arrested in 1997 for violating a government ban on religious gatherings. Since then, they have been subjected to more than two years of prison and a judicial system that does not accord them due process.

The Secretary of State, as you know, designated Iran as a country of particular concern for severe violations of religious freedom. So we urge that the government of Iran protect members of the Baha'i faith and that it ease restrictions on the practice of religion so that all Iranians might enjoy the fundamental human right to freedom of conscience and belief.

With respect to the Salmon Rushdie situation, I don't think there's anything new there. These groups of people have been saying this for some time.

Question: Right. Well, actually, Jamie, the Foreign Minister is now saying it as well, that--(inaudible)--was never--

Mr. Rubin: Right. And a week after the British Government and they talked about it, the Foreign Ministry was saying the same thing. There is obviously some dispute as to exactly what was the significance of that statement. Clearly, it was a step forward at the time. There is nothing new here as far as I can tell.

Question: Do you know how many of the Shiraz Jews remain in prison?

Mr. Rubin: I don't know, and it's generally our view that the best way to improve the fate of these people is to continue to have the private efforts made by other governments to improve the chances for them getting their freedoms.

Question: You didn't get a response yet from Tehran to these overtures, both the U.S. overture for dialogue, et cetera, which is sounded every couple or three weeks but, so far, you haven't heard anything?

Mr. Rubin: We have not. They still have not welcomed the opportunity to talk to us officially, to work on issues of mutual concern.

Question: Jamie, you often comment on electoral practices. In the case of Iran, you haven't said anything. Would you like to say anything about the way the election is being run and specifically the vetting process which candidates have to go through?

Mr. Rubin: First of all, the election hasn't been held yet. We don't always comment on a day-by-day basis of every development. Clearly, there is a freer press in Iran than there ever has been before. Clearly, there is a lively political culture that has developed there. Clearly, candidates from different orientations are able to run.

With respect to the vetting process itself, we will look into what we have to say about that, but that doesn't change the fact that there is certainly key elements of a free and fair election in the sense of the free press and the different views being put forward by different candidates. But with respect to the specifics, I will get back to you on that, yes.

Question: Can you tell us what your hopes and expectations are from the elections?

Mr. Rubin: Well, we obviously don't want to say anything that could affect the elections, so I think it probably would be wise for me not to answer that question.

[end of excerpt]

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