Bahai News - CLINTON ATTENTIVE AT KHATAMI'S GENERAL ASSEMBLY ADDRESS
11 September 2000, Volume 3, Number 35
CLINTON ATTENTIVE AT KHATAMI'S GENERAL ASSEMBLY ADDRESS... U.S. National
Security Adviser Sandy Berger rejected suggestions that President Bill
Clinton might speak with President Mohammad Khatami in New York. He did
say, however, "Obviously, we'll be very interested to hear his remarks.
He's speaking at a forum on dialogue among civilizations. This is
something we've obviously been supportive of, and this -- and been
generally supportive of his -- of the effort to bring more freedom to
the people of Iran." In fact, Clinton stayed at the U.N. General Assembly
after his own 6 September speech to hear Khatami's address, the timing
of which had been changed to permit such an occurrence.
Khatami had some comments that may have been intended for the U.S.
president. "The exigencies of a few power-holders should not supersede
to interests of humanity through familiar practices of endorsement of
undemocratic governments, not responsive to the will and needs of their
people, and application of double and multiple standards of response to
incident around the globe."
Khatami had some ideas on forms of government. He said that "No
particular form of democracy can be prescribed as the only and final
version." And he added that "[h]ence, the unfolding endeavors to
formulate democracy in the context of spirituality and morality may
usher in yet another model of democratic life."
Khatami also had a global vision. "Today, in the name of a great
nation with a long history and ancient civilization, who, through its
magnificent spiritual revolution has opened a new era of governance by
the people in the context of religion, I declare before this house that
nations can no longer be marginalized on political, cultural and
economic pretexts. The world belongs to all its inhabitants," he said.
... ALBRIGHT ALSO LISTENS TO KHATAMI.
Not only did President Bill Clinton listen to President Mohammad Khatami's
6 September speech, but Secretary of State Madeline Albright attended
Khatami's 5 September speech at a UNESCO event. Afterwards, UN
Secretary-General Kofi Annan told a 5 September news conference that
"There was President Khatami speaking with Mrs. Albright in the audience
-- [she was] listening to him -- and I think this is a very good signal."
An unidentified State Department spokesman later explained that because
"there is no official dialog with Iran at this point and we wanted to
send a signal to the Iranians that we're willing to listen to what they
have to say" according to "The New York Times." An anonymous State
Department official said that Albright found Khatami's speech to be
"thought-provoking and interesting."
Khatami's speech seemed to have at least one message that could be
interpreted as being meant for American ears, when he urged members of
the UN to "endeavor to remove barriers from the way of dialog among
cultures and civilizations." Khatami also suggested that "the
Cartesian-Faustian narrative of Western civilization should give way and
begin to listen to other narratives proposed by other human cultures."
He explained that dialog among civilizations and cultures requires an
understanding of one's own culture and civilization, as well as
those of others. "Through seeing others we attain a hitherto impossible
knowledge of ourselves." (Bill Samii)
KHATAMI MEETS WORLD LEADERS. President Mohammad Khatami met Russian
Federation President Vladimir Putin on 6 September, and they discussed
conflict resolution in the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Caspian region,
ITAR-TASS reported. Khatami accepted Putin's invitation to visit Russia
in the first half of 2001. Khatami also spoke with Algeria's President
Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Afterwards, Algerian UN ambassador Abdallah Baali
said Algeria and Iran have decided to re-establish diplomatic relations,
interrupted in 1993 after Algiers accused Tehran of supporting radical
Algerian Islamists. Khatami also spoke with Austrian President Thomas
Klestil, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Croatian President
Stipe Mesic, Jordan's King Abdullah II, Mongolian President Natsagiyn
Bagabandi, and Pakistan's General Pervez Musharraf. Other meetings were
with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Romanian President
Emil Constantinescu, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, Saudi Arabia's
Crown Prince Abdallah Bin-Abd- al-Aziz Al Sa'ud, Spainish Prime
Minister Jose Maria Aznar, and Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Salih.
LOOKING FOR A PARACHUTE. Paratroopers believe that if their main
chute does not open, they can fall back on a reserve chute. But in those
seconds when the falling jumper is trying to yank open the reserve as he
plummets to the earth, there is modicum of desperation. The Iranian
government's desperation for a reserve chute -- foreign investment --
that will fill the place of its tangled main chute -- the domestic
economy -- has rarely been more obvious than when President Mohammad
Khatami came to the U.S. at the beginning of September. But this time it
looks like the reserve is reluctant about its deployment.
On 4 September Khatami spoke to a handpicked group of expatriate Iranians
-- termed "a gathering of the outstanding Iranians living in the United
States" by IRNA -- and urged them to help Iran's economic development.
The invited audience was friendly, although a bit more reserved than it
was when Khatami visited New York in September 1998. In contrast to the
earlier session, no questions from the floor were permitted.
Khatami praised the Iranian sprit and culture in the face of adversities
such as the Arab invasion and imposition of Islam. He also said that "the
Iranians have inherited a culture which enables them to initiate practical
ideas, whereas the calculating Japanese copy ideas." Khatami complained
about the U.S. role in the August 1953 ouster of Prime Minister Muhammad
Mussadiq, and he demanded an apology, asking "are the Americans ready to
admit to the means to which they resorted?"
Khatami also discussed the constitution and said the way is open for
changes within its framework. He admitted that there have been
"shortcomings and flaws" in Iranian policies and programs, but
constructive criticism could resolve such problems in a tension-free and
calm climate. There is significant internal pressure, he said, especially
intolerance for different views, hasty actions, and a lack of realism.
Five speakers preceded Khatami. One of them was Pittsburgh businessman
Jahangir Ghaznavi, who urged Khatami to simplify the means by which people
and their assets can enter and leave the country. He also encouraged
Khatami to guarantee investments, which would mean that they are safe from
confiscation by the state.
Indeed, Iran attracted less than $1 billion in direct foreign
investment in 1999. When Iranian parliamentarians were in New York in
the first week of September, they described a bill to attract and
protect foreign investment. This new bill, in theory, makes allowances
for repatriation of profits and for compensation in case of
nationalization. There are also allowances for conflict resolution,
although, as an Iranian attorney warned in Menas Associates' "Iran
Energy Focus," "foreign investors should be aware of constitutional
restrictions regarding conflict resolution when the other side is the
government." This new bill, plus current laws, is vague in certain
areas, too, which could be a serious problem in case of a dispute with
Article 44 of the Iranian Constitution, which defines the
economy's sectors (state, cooperative, and private), gives the state
extensive control in most parts of the economy. It has control over
foreign trade; exploitation of mineral resources; banking; insurance;
power generation; dams and irrigation; broadcasting; post, telegraph,
and telephone; aviation; shipping; roads; and railroads. The new budget,
passed in March, modified these restrictions slightly, permitting the
establishment of private banks and the sale of up to 49 percent of state
banks. The Guardians Council, which must approve all legislation,
blocked other incentives for privatization, and a similar danger exists
for the new bill.
The taxation system is another disincentive for foreign investors.
Ten percent of the total taxable income is deducted from any
corporation, a priori, then there is a tax of 12 to 54 percent. The
multiple-exchange rate system means that someone operating in the
economy who wants to get foreign exchange must buy it on the black
market (about 8,000 rials for every $1). But when they want to
repatriate some income or nationalization issues arise, the official
rate (175 rials to the dollar) is applied.
Khatami also expressed concern about the brain drain. Forty Iranian
parliamentarians proposed a bill on 3 September that would give an
amnesty to any Iranian who has left the country. Iranians with proven
records of terrorism against the state are excluded from the amnesty,
IRNA reported on 3 September. But Iranians leave the country to escape
its oppressive atmosphere and unpromising future, and those factors do
not seem set to change soon. Using the term "amnesty," furthermore,
implies that somebody has broken the law, whereas Iranians abroad
generally do not believe such a definition applies to them.
Several members of the audience told RFE/RL's Persian Service
that Khatami's warm remarks were welcome but underwhelming. Badie
Badiolzamani said, "For the first time we hear nice things from someone
at the peak of power. We hope that this will be closer to action.
Financial difficulties and unemployment in Iran are tremendous and
threaten Iran with the danger of explosion but that was not properly
addressed here today." And Heshmatollah Reyazi said he regards Iran as
still far from democratic: "There is still a continuation of
dictatorship in the name of religion." (Bill Samii)
RELIGIOUS MINORITIES SUFFER DISCRIMINATION.
At the end of President Khatami's speech to
Iranian expatriates in New York, he thanked "our dear Jewish,
Zoroastrian, Assyrian, and Armenian compatriots for taking part in this
meeting." And during the speech he noted that Iranians from all ethnic
and religious backgrounds have contributed to their country: "We have
Jewish martyrs, Zoroastrian martyrs, Armenian martyrs, and Assyrian
martyrs among our martyrs." In fact, a son of the recently deceased
leader of Iran's Zoroastrian community, Mobed Rostam Shahzadi, died
in the war with Iraq.
The number of Zoroastrians in Iran is between 35,000 (Iranian
government estimate) and 60,000 (the claim of Zoroastrian groups). And
after hearing Khatami, Iranian Zoroastrian Banou Mehr said, "we'll
all go back as soon as we can enjoy complete religious freedom." Ms.
Mehr might be reassured because the State Department's Annual Report
on International Religious Freedom, released on 5 September, notes that
"there were no reports of government harassment of the Zoroastrian
community" in the last year. But the last time Khatami spoke to Iranian
expatriates in New York he had fielded a question from another
Zoroastrian, Boston University's Professor Farhang Mehr. Mehr had
asked a question about discriminatory laws on inheritance and blood
money ("diyeh," the amount of compensation one must pay for harming
another person) that favor Muslims. So far, such laws have not changed.
In fact, according to the State Department report, "the Government
restricts freedom of religion," and its actions create a "threatening
atmosphere" for Bahais, Jews, and evangelical Christians. Furthermore,
Tehran "fuels anti-Bahai and anti-Jewish sentiment … for political
purposes." The Ministries of Islamic Culture and Guidance and
Intelligence and Security (MOIS) have the lead in monitoring religious
activity. The report catalogs arrests, arbitrary detention and
continuing incarceration, confiscation of property, denial of
educational rights, and desecration of cemeteries. It also describes
difficulties in Bahais, and Jews, access to employment opportunities and
to legal redress. Yet Jews are reluctant to complain
because they fear government reprisals. Tehran, furthermore, does not
even recognize Bahaism as a legitimate religion. The government also
charges members of minorities with drug offenses, apostasy, and
"confronting the regime," all of which can be capital offenses.
Neither the State Department report nor President Khatami mentioned
Iran's Anglican Christians. Bishop Hassan Dehqani-Tafti, the
predecessor of the current bishop in Iran, told RFE/RL that the Anglican
properties confiscated by the regime in the early days of the revolution
have not been returned to their rightful owners yet. These properties
include hospitals, schools, churches, and shops. Dehqani added that the
existing Anglican community, which is very small, is not bothered as
long as it does not try to convert any Muslims.
Despite all this, Iran was cited for making "noteworthy" improvements
in respect for religious freedom, and overall, the report had not
changed much since its premier issue, which was released a year ago. A
reporter criticized Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious
Freedom Robert Seiple for the light treatment Iran received in this
year's report. Seiple replied that "Iran has not gotten by at
all…we looked at how they treated the Bahais, primarily this is
state-sponsored, this is more than discrimination -- this is persecution
-- and the report spells that out."
Tehran reacted predictably. "The allegations made by the State
Department in its annual report about the absence of religious freedom
in Iran are unfounded and repetitive," Foreign Ministry spokesman
Hamid-Reza Assefi said. He added, according to IRNA, that such
accusations are repeated annually because of a "lack of knowledge about
the human rights situation in Iran and especially the freedom of
religious minorities." (Bill Samii)
INVESTIGATIONS INTO KHORRAMABAD UNREST.
Conflicting reports on the status of the official
investigation into the late-August and early-September unrest in
Khorramabad, Luristan Province, when clashes between hardline vigilantes
and reformist student groups resulted in arrests and deaths, appear
likely to undermine public confidence in any final findings and
The Judiciary ordered the state inspectorate (National Control and
Inspection Organization) to investigate the Khorramabad events on 29
August. IRNA reported on 4 September that the inspectorate's
investigation was completed, after conducting interviews with the
provincial governor and other provincial officials, the Friday Prayer
leader, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, the provincial Law
Enforcement Forces commander, university officials, and other witnesses.
One day later, an unidentified inspectorate official denied that its
investigation was finished.
IRNA also reported on 4 September that the Supreme National Security
Council and the parliament were conducting their own investigations. But
it was not until 6 September, according to another IRNA report, that the
parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy committee agreed
to the demands for an investigation by Mashhad's Ali Tajerani and
Isfahan's Ahmad Shirzad.
There is some question about the objectivity of the investigations.
Luristan Province's deputy governor in charge of political affairs,
Mohammad Rezai, warned that "it seems that some individuals [within the
investigatory delegations] have adopted particular stances," "Hayat-i
No" reported on 6 September.
There were parliamentary disagreements over who started the unrest.
Pol-i Dokhtar (Luristan Province) deputy Mohammad Mehdi Shahrokhi said
on 5 September that the Office for Strengthening Unity (OSU, or Daftar-i
Tahkim-i Vahdat, the largest pro-Khatami student organization) started
the unrest. Shahrokhi claimed, according to IRNA, that video footage
showed the students throwing rocks at a peaceful opposing rally.
Shahrokhi and Khorramabad MP Abdolrahim Baharvand also complained
that the unrest started when Interior Ministry official Mustafa Tajzadeh
had insulted them and called the locals "fascists." Tajzadeh was at the
Khorramabad airport when the problems started, and he claimed that at
the time he had asked for the names of the protestors who were present.
If his request had been fulfilled, Tajzadeh said, the instigators of the
unrest would be known now. Tajzadeh said he was ready to debate the two
parliamentarians, IRNA reported on 6 September.
The Islamic Associations of the Bazaar and Guilds of Tehran
(Anjumanha-yi Islami-yi Bazaar va Asnaf-i Tehran) also called for the
authorities to identify those who are behind the Khorramabad unrest. But
it may be that all the investigations are unnecessary, because the
Bazaars and Guilds Associations' statement said that the Khorramabad
unrest was the beginning of a "scenario staged to please the U.S.,"
"Iran" reported on 6 September. (Bill Samii)
BASIJ FORCES TO BE ARMED.
General Gervehi, deputy commander in charge of
coordination of Basij Mobilization Forces in Khorasan Province, said on
7 September that all active Basij members serving at Basij bases in Iran
are to be armed "on a gradual basis." The Basijis will be trained in the
use of their weapons, he added. There are three possible explanations
for this statement.
Gervehi's statement may reflect efforts to improve security in
the border provinces and Khorasan specifically. There was a recent
hostage situation there, and the province is plagued with smugglers of
narcotics and other goods, kidnappers, and insurgents. At a 5 September
seminar of Iranian security commanders, there was great deal of
discussion about the elimination of criminal activities in the
provinces, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported. The Islamic Revolution Guards
Corps, Colonel Moqaddam, deputy commander for coordination of
security forces, told the seminar that "one of the most important
objectives of the seminar is to survey ways and means of strengthening
the security of the frontiers. We are also going to study plans for the
establishment of autonomous regiments and strengthen the existing
operational garrisons on the frontier regions." Earlier in the summer,
the province's Basijis were given additional powers and it was
decided to arm them (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 24 July 2000). Also, the
Supreme National Security Council approved a plan to increase their
Gervehi's statement about arming the Basij could reflect an
effort to strengthen national security in the face of possible domestic
unrest. Large-scale military exercises involving 15,000 Basijis and IRGC
personnel were held near the Gulistan Province town of Abqalla in the
first week of September. Paratroopers, tanks, artillery, and pilot-less
drones were involved in the exercises. 30,000 Basijis held exercises in
Mazandaran Province at the end of August. Also, there were reports that
security forces had moved in to deal with a week of unrest in Luristan
Province in August and September. Furthermore, "formation of the Basij
paved the way for the permanent, comprehensive defense of the Islamic
revolution and its valuable achievements," according to the 31 July
A third explanation could be that Gervehi's statement reflects
the general expansion of the Basij that was reported earlier (see
"RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 August 2000). Basij commander Brigadier General
Mohammad Hejazi had said on 21 August that Iran's volunteer forces
would be increased by 1.5 million people, in line with establishing a 20
million-person army. More recently, IRGC commander Lieutenant General
Yahya Rahim Safavi told state television on 31 August that "we must
attract volunteers from the second generation of the revolution, that
is, young people who have no memory of the pre-revolution era and the
holy defense [the Iran-Iraq War]. And in a possible attempt to bolster
the force's dwindling popularity, Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani
condemned critics of the Basij during Tehran's 8 September Friday
Prayers. (Bill Samii)
ATTEMPTS TO MUZZLE
The State Department's most recent Annual Report
on International Religious Freedom notes that the Iranian government
restricts the movement of several senior religious leaders and has kept
some of them under house arrest for years. Such a situation is having
Earlier this summer security personnel in Qom arrested a young man,
who was wearing an Islamic Revolution Guards Corps uniform, for slashing
his wrist and writing on a wall with his blood. The young man was openly
demanding the release from house arrest of Ayatollah Hussein Ali
Montazeri-Najafabadi, saying he would rather die than see the
cleric's detention continue. A few weeks later, Iran's press
court permanently closed "Ava" weekly and barred its publisher from
press activities. "Ava" is known for carrying Montazeri's views,
while its publisher, Mustafa Izadi, is a Montazeri supporter.
Montazeri was designated the successor of Ayatollah Ruhollah
Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, in 1985. He fell out of
favor in 1989, however, because of his post-facto criticism of the
conduct of the war with Iraq. After returning to Qom, Montazeri resumed
teaching and attracted many students. His views on the relationship
between religion and politics, furthermore, attracted the support of
many other senior Iranian clerics. They subsequently called for
Montazeri's re-designation as a source of emulation, the highest
position for a Shia Muslim cleric, as well as his freedom.
Although Montazeri has some popular and elite support, he has
enemies, too. Many in the Iranian government and leadership see
Montazeri as a potential threat and rival for power. Montazeri's
frequent criticism of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, saying that
he is not religiously qualified to lead Iran, does not help his
Attempts to silence Montazeri have not been very successful and are
undermined by improvements in communications technology. His views are
faxed to Western newspapers and news agencies. Visitors to his home,
even when they cannot meet him personally, can conduct interviews via an
intercom from the neighboring house. Montazeri has a website,
http://www.montazeri.com, which has selections of his writings and
photos of him. And people can e-mail questions to Montazeri.
Some of his views are about Iran's relationship with other
countries. "Please tell the people of the world on my behalf that Iran
is a tortured and oppressed nation that has endured the whip of
despotism and the unjust rule of its emperors for many years," Montazeri
says in an e-mail reproduced by "Frankfurter Allgemeine" on 20 May. He
explains that although Iran is suffering economically because of the
long war with Iraq and "sanctions and boycotts by individual states,"
"we are not hostile toward any country in the world and wish to have
dialog and reconciliation with all nations and states." Montazeri adds,
in a 25 May interview with London's Arabic-language "Al-Sharq
al-Awsat," the Iran should eliminate tensions in Iran's
international relations that have been brought about by "mismanagement
and futile extremist slogans."
Montazeri's main interest, however, remains domestic Iranian
politics. In his opinion, Islamic government and democracy are not
mutually exclusive, and he tells "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that "the Islamic
system of government depends on the people's acceptance of this
system." The Iranian people support an Islamic system of governance,
Montazeri believes, but they are "indignant at a certain dictatorial
group that has monopolized the interpretation of the concepts of Islam
and described others as infidels and apostates."
Montazeri still propounds the Vilayat-i Faqih (guardianship of the
Supreme Jurisconsult) theory, but its current Iranian incarnation needs
to be changed. He believes that the people are "bearing heavy burdens to
achieve the reforms for which they are striving and to sweep away the
dust that has settled over the revolution."
The most necessary reform, Montazeri says, is letting the people
choose or remove the country's chief executive –the Supreme
Leader -- through direct election. Currently, these powers are
restricted to the Assembly of Experts, a wholly clerical body. Elections
are held for the Assembly, but public participation in them is low and
candidates are effectively pre-determined by the Guardians Council, a
body that vets candidates for national-level elected offices.
Montazeri calls for other changes as well.
Constitutionally-guaranteed public rights must be safeguarded,
particularly freedom of the press. In an 8 August fax to the BBC,
Montazeri condemns the Supreme Leader's ban on press reform, and he
said that over-ruling the parliament would lead to despotism. In a
related issue, Montazeri calls for changes in the state broadcasting
organization, which currently is run by hardliners.
Reforms in the state bureaucracy are necessary too, Montazeri says,
and all state organizations require oversight. Montazeri would eliminate
the Expediency Council, which rules in cases where the Guardians Council
and parliament are deadlocked on legislation. The Foundation for the
Oppressed and Disabled, a semi-state organization with immense economic
power, should be eliminated, as should "illegitimate utilization of
public funds" and "unnecessary public expenditures." The growing divide
between the rich and the poor has to go.
Moreover, the penal code should be amended because what Montazeri
terms "pseudo-trials" are unproductive. He also calls for elimination of
the Special Court for the Clergy and the Revolutionary Courts.
Montazeri wants to see the municipal councils, which were elected in
February 1999, have a more significant role in local politics, which
would help eliminate some of the power concentrated in Tehran. And laws
addressing the Guardians Council's role in supervising elections
must be amended, because the current interpretation violates the spirit
of the constitution.
And he warns that Iranians' desire for reform is countered by "a
group of people who are manipulating the religious sentiments and
beliefs of the people as an instrument to achieve their political
objectives under the pretext that they want to protect the faith and the
Islamic holy shrines." (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN PARLIAMENTARIAN SEEKS TO SUE U.S.
Parliamentarian Alaeddin Borujerdi has announced that
he will file a legal complaint against the U.S. in court for
Washington's rejection of Borujerdi's application for a U.S.
visa to attend the late-August Inter-Parliamentary Union meeting in New
York on national security grounds. Borujerdi was one of the "students"
who held American diplomats hostage in Iran from 1979-1981. (Bill
©Copyright 2000, RFE/RL, Inc
Page last updated/revised 112400
Return to the Bahá'í Association's Main Web Page