Bahai News - UNDATED: weapons capability

UNDATED: weapons capability.

By Associated Press, 3/17/2000 10:35

America's response has been a policy of isolation and containment. We took Iranian leaders at their word that they viewed America as an enemy, and in response we had to treat Iran as a threat.

However, after the election of President Khatami in 1997, we began to adjust the lens through which we viewed Iran. Although Iran's objectionable external policies remained fairly constant, the political and social dynamics inside Iran were quite clearly beginning to change.

In response, President Clinton and I welcomed the new Iranian president's call for a dialogue between our peoples. We encouraged academic, cultural and athletic contacts. We updated our advisory to Americans wishing to travel to Iran. We reiterated our willingness to engage in officially authorized discussions with Iran regarding each other's principal concerns and said we would monitor future developments in that country closely, which is what we have done.

Now we have concluded the time is right to broaden our perspective even further, because the trends that were becoming evident inside Iran are plainly gathering steam. The country's young are spearheading a movement aimed at a more open society and a more flexible approach to the world. Iran's women have made themselves among the most politically active and empowered in the region. Budding entrepreneurs are eager to establish winning connections overseas.

Respected clerics speak increasingly about the compatibility of reverence and freedom, modernity and Islam.

An increasingly competent press is emerging despite attempts to muscle it. And Iran has experienced not one, but three, increasingly democratic rounds of elections in as many years. Not surprisingly, these developments have been stubbornly opposed in some quarters and the process they have set in motion is far from complete. Harsh punishments are still meted for various kinds of dissent. Religious prosecution continues against the Baha'i and also against some Iranians who have converted to Christianity.

And governments around the world, including our own, have expressed concern about the need to ensure the process for 13 Iranian Jews who were detained for more then a year without official charge and are now scheduled for trial next month. We look to the procedures and the results of this trial as one of the barometers of U.S.-Iran relations.

Moreover, in the fall of 1998, several prominent writers and publishers were murdered, apparently, by rogue elements in Iran's security forces. And just the past weekend a prominent editor and adviser to President Khatami was gravely wounded in an assassination attempt.

As in any diverse society, there are many currents whirling about in Iran. Some are driving the country forward, others are holding it back. Despite the trend toward democracy, control over the military, judiciary, courts and police remains in unelected hands and the elements of its foreign policy about which we are most concerned have not improved.

But the momentum in the direction of internal reform, freedom and openness is growing stronger. More and more Iranians are unafraid to agree with President's Khatami's assessment of 15 months ago, and I quote, "Freedom and diversity of thought do not threaten the society's security," he said. "Rather, limiting freedom does so. Criticizing the government and state organizations at any level is not detrimental to the system; on the contrary, it is necessary," unquote.

The democratic winds in Iran are so refreshing, and many of the ideas espoused by its leaders so encouraging, there is a risk we will assume too much. In truth, it is too early to know precisely where the democratic trends will lead.

Certainly, the primary impetus for change is not ideology, but pragmatism. Iranians want a better life they want broader social freedom, greater government accountability and wider prosperity. Despite reviving oil prices, Iran's economy remains hobbled by inefficiency, corruption and excessive state control. Due in part to demographic factors, unemployment is higher and per capita income lower than 20 years ago.

The bottom line is that Iran is evolving on its own terms and will continue to do so. Iranian democracy, if it blossoms further, is sure to have its own distinctive features consistent with the country's traditions and culture. And like any dramatic political and social evolution, it will go forward at its own speed on a timetable Iranians set for themselves.

©Copyright 2000, Boston Globe

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