||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
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
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
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
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
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]