President Khatami conquers all before him in Rome

Developing Just Leadership

Zafar Bangash

Dhu al-Hijjah 14, 1419 1999-04-01

World

by Zafar Bangash (World, Crescent International Vol. 28, No. 3, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1419)

He came, he saw, he conquered. Mohammed Khatami, Iran’s philosopher president, brought no legions to Rome during his three-day state visit from March 9-11. Instead he came armed only with intellectual vigor and the authority of the Islamic State, and took the ancient capital of the west by storm. He also met the pope before returning to Tehran. So keen was the head of the roman catholic church to please his Iranian guest that, in a rare departure from protocol, he personally welcomed president Khatami on the threshold of the Vatican’s private library. Guests are normally ushered into the library to greet him.

Before their talks, president Khatami joked with the pope and introduced his delegation. Speaking in Farsi, he told Iranian photographers ‘not to upset the pope.’ The pontiff called the occasion ‘important and promising’ while president Khatami presented him with a set of videos and a book on the history of Christians in Iran.

President Khatami’s visit was very different from those of Muslim heads of State to Europe or America. They come as supplicants begging for favours or trying to please their masters in the Elysees Palace or the White House. President Khatami came as the head of a popularly-elected Islamic government which is genuinely independent and whose policies are based on Islamic principles. He met his hosts as equals. The difference is important. One of his consistent themes since being elected president in May 1997 has been his call for a ‘dialogue of civilisations.’ He repeated this several times in Rome as well. On March 11, the Italian daily, Republicca, carried his interview. The paper reported him as saying: ‘In the field of sport and culture we have had numerous exchanges with the US but as far as inter- government relations are concerned, we shall never submit to force.’ President Khatami emphasised: ‘Dialogue must be based on equal terms and mutual respect. Over the past 50 years the US has had an unequal dialogue with Iran. This situation must change. There must be reparations for the damage caused to Iran.’ He cited the unilateral US embargo on investments in Iran imposed in April 1995 during president Bill Clinton’s address to the US-Jewish Congress. The Americans have also illegally frozen Iranian assets worth tens of billions of dollars.

While the Americans, intoxicated by their technological prowess and self- proclaimed importance, are likely to turn a deaf ear to this call, others have seen the wisdom for a dialogue as equals. During his address at the Imam Khomeini Congress in Tehran in June 1997, attended by scholars from all over the world, president-elect Khatami outlined his vision for the future inviting the world to move away from conflict and towards peaceful and just co- existence. He repeated this six months later at the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) summit at which he presided. His performance and depth of knowledge impressed everyone.

Commenting on his Italian visit, David Gardner and Robin Allen wrote in the London Financial Times (March 10): ‘There are three connected objectives of Mr Khatami’s campaign. They are: to win western endorsement of his efforts to create accountable government under the rule of law; to foster international acceptance of Iran as a regional power with legitimate security interests in the Middle East and Central Asia; and to begin enticing the foreign investment Iran desperately needs to employ its fast growing population, two-thirds of whom are under 25.’

Anyone familiar with Iran and the west’s behaviour towards the rest of the world would immediately see through this patent nonsense. Iran does not need the west’s endorsement of its system of government, which stands in sharp contrast to the pro-western tyrannies in the Middle East. Nor does Iran need western approval for pursuing its ‘legitimate interests’ in the region; the countries of the region have themselves realised this and welcomed relations with Iran. The west has no authority to dispense such favours. This thinking is born of the west’s belief in its own importance.

As far as attracting foreign investment is concerned, Italian foreign minister Lamberto Dini was quite candid. While having breakfast with president Khatami on March 10, Dini, who has already visited Tehran, admitted that Italian business was ‘greatly interested’ in Iran. Italy is Iran’s second biggest supplier after Germany, and its second biggest customer after Japan. Trade between the two countries was worth US$2.6 billion in 1997. During the president’s visit, officials of the Italian State oil company ENI held talks with the Iranian delegation. On March 1, ENI, along with French oil company ELF, signed a $540 million contract to boost production from an offshore oil field in the northern Persian Gulf, according to an Agence France Presse report of March 12. There are also reports that president Khatami may visit France and possibly Germany later this month (April). These commercial contacts are despite vigorous US efforts to persuade Europe not to deal with Iran.

The US is acutely aware of being left out from this important country in a vital region. Some former US officials, among them Cyrus Vance who was secretary of State during Jimmy Carter’s presidency, have called for discreet contacts with Tehran to start afresh. Such calls will remain unanswered unless the US changes its attitude. As president Khatami pointed out during his Rome visit: ‘the US must carry out an in-depth review of their attitude and make a fresh start for a healthy relationship with today’s world, a free world which wants its independence and its autonomy.’

In fact, the west in general needs to revise its attitude and improve its manners towards Muslims. Even as the Italians were courting president Khatami, they displayed bad manners by inviting the apostate Salman Rushdie to Italy. President Khatami was naturally ‘deeply disappointed.’ The apostate author was awarded an honorary degree on March 10 by the University of Turin. The press in Tehran described Rushdie’s presence as an intentional insult. ‘One cannot but reach the conclusion that at least some officials of the Italian government fully intended to insult our president, our nation and our religious beliefs,’ said the English-language Iran News. The implications of this behaviour for the proposed ‘dialogue of civilizations’ could have escaped no-one.

Muslimedia: April 1-15, 1999

He came, he saw, he conquered. Mohammed Khatami, Iran’s philosopher president, brought no legions to Rome during his three-day state visit from March 9-11. Instead he came armed only with intellectual vigor and the authority of the Islamic State, and took the ancient capital of the west by storm. He also met the pope before returning to Tehran. So keen was the head of the roman catholic church to please his Iranian guest that, in a rare departure from protocol, he personally welcomed president Khatami on the threshold of the Vatican’s private library. Guests are normally ushered into the library to greet him.

Before their talks, president Khatami joked with the pope and introduced his delegation. Speaking in Farsi, he told Iranian photographers ‘not to upset the pope.’ The pontiff called the occasion ‘important and promising’ while president Khatami presented him with a set of videos and a book on the history of Christians in Iran.

President Khatami’s visit was very different from those of Muslim heads of State to Europe or America. They come as supplicants begging for favours or trying to please their masters in the Elysees Palace or the White House. President Khatami came as the head of a popularly-elected Islamic government which is genuinely independent and whose policies are based on Islamic principles. He met his hosts as equals. The difference is important. One of his consistent themes since being elected president in May 1997 has been his call for a ‘dialogue of civilisations.’ He repeated this several times in Rome as well. On March 11, the Italian daily, Republicca, carried his interview. The paper reported him as saying: ‘In the field of sport and culture we have had numerous exchanges with the US but as far as inter- government relations are concerned, we shall never submit to force.’ President Khatami emphasised: ‘Dialogue must be based on equal terms and mutual respect. Over the past 50 years the US has had an unequal dialogue with Iran. This situation must change. There must be reparations for the damage caused to Iran.’ He cited the unilateral US embargo on investments in Iran imposed in April 1995 during president Bill Clinton’s address to the US-Jewish Congress. The Americans have also illegally frozen Iranian assets worth tens of billions of dollars.

While the Americans, intoxicated by their technological prowess and self- proclaimed importance, are likely to turn a deaf ear to this call, others have seen the wisdom for a dialogue as equals. During his address at the Imam Khomeini Congress in Tehran in June 1997, attended by scholars from all over the world, president-elect Khatami outlined his vision for the future inviting the world to move away from conflict and towards peaceful and just co- existence. He repeated this six months later at the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) summit at which he presided. His performance and depth of knowledge impressed everyone.

Commenting on his Italian visit, David Gardner and Robin Allen wrote in the London Financial Times (March 10): ‘There are three connected objectives of Mr Khatami’s campaign. They are: to win western endorsement of his efforts to create accountable government under the rule of law; to foster international acceptance of Iran as a regional power with legitimate security interests in the Middle East and Central Asia; and to begin enticing the foreign investment Iran desperately needs to employ its fast growing population, two-thirds of whom are under 25.’

Anyone familiar with Iran and the west’s behaviour towards the rest of the world would immediately see through this patent nonsense. Iran does not need the west’s endorsement of its system of government, which stands in sharp contrast to the pro-western tyrannies in the Middle East. Nor does Iran need western approval for pursuing its ‘legitimate interests’ in the region; the countries of the region have themselves realised this and welcomed relations with Iran. The west has no authority to dispense such favours. This thinking is born of the west’s belief in its own importance.

As far as attracting foreign investment is concerned, Italian foreign minister Lamberto Dini was quite candid. While having breakfast with president Khatami on March 10, Dini, who has already visited Tehran, admitted that Italian business was ‘greatly interested’ in Iran. Italy is Iran’s second biggest supplier after Germany, and its second biggest customer after Japan. Trade between the two countries was worth US$2.6 billion in 1997. During the president’s visit, officials of the Italian State oil company ENI held talks with the Iranian delegation. On March 1, ENI, along with French oil company ELF, signed a $540 million contract to boost production from an offshore oil field in the northern Persian Gulf, according to an Agence France Presse report of March 12. There are also reports that president Khatami may visit France and possibly Germany later this month (April). These commercial contacts are despite vigorous US efforts to persuade Europe not to deal with Iran.

The US is acutely aware of being left out from this important country in a vital region. Some former US officials, among them Cyrus Vance who was secretary of State during Jimmy Carter’s presidency, have called for discreet contacts with Tehran to start afresh. Such calls will remain unanswered unless the US changes its attitude. As president Khatami pointed out during his Rome visit: ‘the US must carry out an in-depth review of their attitude and make a fresh start for a healthy relationship with today’s world, a free world which wants its independence and its autonomy.’

In fact, the west in general needs to revise its attitude and improve its manners towards Muslims. Even as the Italians were courting president Khatami, they displayed bad manners by inviting the apostate Salman Rushdie to Italy. President Khatami was naturally ‘deeply disappointed.’ The apostate author was awarded an honorary degree on March 10 by the University of Turin. The press in Tehran described Rushdie’s presence as an intentional insult. ‘One cannot but reach the conclusion that at least some officials of the Italian government fully intended to insult our president, our nation and our religious beliefs,’ said the English-language Iran News. The implications of this behaviour for the proposed ‘dialogue of civilizations’ could have escaped no-one.

Muslimedia: April 1-15, 1999

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