Former President Khatami of Iran is on a twelve day visit to the U.S., and I've had the opportunity to accompany him in his travels (which I will be writing about for a publication later). From the day of his arrival in New York, Mr. Khatami and his staff have been somewhat surprised by (but certainly grateful for) the extreme courtesy shown them in the U.S.; from the State Department providing a large security detail (with local governments and police departments assisting at various stops), to the genuine goodwill shown by all Americans in almost every instance of contact. In granting Mr. Khatami a visa and facilitating his travels, the Bush administration has gotten it right; the visit of an Iranian dignitary is important in furthering peaceful dialog between Americans and Iranians and continued contact, particularly at high (and influential) levels, can only help lessen the probability of the Iranian nuclear issue resulting in another military conflict.
There are, unfortunately, some who must not hold that view. Adding his voice to those of a handful of Congressmen who objected to the issuance of Mr. Khatami's visa, Governor Mitt Romney of Massachussetts has not only criticized Harvard for inviting the former president to speak, but has instructed state officials to refuse assistance to federal agents who are coordinating security and providing logistical support. (The State Department security service agents I spoke with last night weren't worried in the least.) Governor Romney issued a press release on Tuesday outlining his position, a position that reveals his utter ignorance of Iran, Iranian politics, and most importantly, President Khatami's character (my comments in italics):
ROMNEY DENOUNCES KHATAMI VISIT TO HARVARD
Declines to provide escort, or offer state support for trip
Governor Mitt Romney today ordered all Massachusetts state government agencies to decline support, if asked, for former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami's September 10 visit to the Boston area, where he is scheduled to speak at Harvard University.
"State taxpayers should not be providing special treatment to an individual who supports violent jihad and the destruction of Israel," said Romney.
Umm, Governor, Mr. Khatami has gone out of his way to emphasize that he supports neither. Read his speeches and statements, both in Iran and abroad (including on this trip). Under Khatami, Iran did not advocate the destruction of Israel; rather, the government's stated position was (and has been reaffirmed since by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei), that it is entirely up to the Palestinians to decide the question of their future. Perhaps you're confusing Khatami with Ahmadinejad?
Romney's action means that Khatami will be denied an official police escort and other VIP treatment when he is in town. The federal government provides security through the U.S. State Department.
Romney criticized Harvard for honoring Khatami by inviting him to speak, calling it "a disgrace to the memory of all Americans who have lost their lives at the hands of extremists, especially on the eve of the five-year anniversary of 9/11."
Invoking 9/11, when Khatami was the first Muslim leader to condemn the act and thousands upon thousands of Tehran residents held candlelight vigils in sympathy with Americans, to say nothing of the fact that neither Iran nor any Iranians had anything to do with 9/11, is not only odious but downright manipulative.
Said Romney: "The U.S. State Department listed Khatami's Iran as the number one state sponsor of terrorism. Within his own country, Khatami oversaw the torture and murder of dissidents who spoke out for freedom and democracy. For him to lecture Americans about tolerance and violence is propaganda, pure and simple."
Mr. Khatami neither "oversaw" torture and murder nor did he condone it. In fact, Khatami is on record criticizing those abuses, and although he made great attempts to curtail the power of the state security services while he was president, ultimately the power structure of Iran, where the judiciary and the military report not to the President but to the Supreme Leader (I guess you didn't know that, Gov.) prevented him from fully accomplishing his goals.
Romney cited a litany of hateful actions by Khatami, including his support for violent jihadist activities:
During the period of time he was in office, from 1997 to 2005, Khatami presided over Iran's secret nuclear program. Currently, the Iranian Government under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is snubbing the international community's request to cease nuclear weapons production.
It was under Khatami that Iran suspended uranium enrichment and entered into negotiations on the nuclear program. And Governor, I hate to be the first to tell you, but no one has asked Iran to "cease nuclear weapons production". They've asked them to suspend uranium enrichment. If they were "producing" nuclear weapons, don't you think the issue would be a little different from what it is today?
In the recent conflict along the Israel-Lebanon border, Khatami described the terrorist group Hezbollah as a "shining sun that illuminates and warms the hearts of all Muslims and supporters of freedom in the world."
True. Khatami does indeed view Hezbollah as a resistance movement, even though he acknowledges that they may have engaged in what we call terrorist activities in the past. But if we are to refuse dialog with Khatami on that basis, then we have to also exclude the possibility of talking to virtually anyone in the Muslim world, since an overwhelming majority seem to subscribe to Khatami's view.
Khatami has endorsed Ahmadinejad's call for the annihilation of Israel.
Uh, no, Mr. Romney. Check CNN.
During Khatami's presidency, Iran refused to hand over the Iranian intelligence officials who were responsible for the attack on the Khobar Towers that killed 19 U.S. military personnel.
There has never been any evidence presented that Iranians were responsible for that attack. That doesn't mean it's not true, but if Governor Romney has evidence, I can assure him that President Khatami would be the first to want to see it.
In his own country, Khatami oversaw the torture and murder of Iranian students, journalists, and others who spoke out for freedom and democracy. Khatami relaxed freedom of speech laws giving democracy reformers a false sense of security only to engage in one of the largest crackdowns in the country's history.
Nice analysis, Governor. Wily devil that Khatami, isn't he? What's he going to do at Harvard? Give the students a "false sense of securtity" and then hypnotize them?
In Khatami's Iran, there was no religious tolerance. According to the U.S. Office of International Religious Freedom, Iran was one of the worst offenders of religious persecutions. Minorities, such as Evangelicals, Jews, Catholics and others, have suffered.
There has always been some religious tolerance in Iran, Mr. Romney, otherwise Iran wouldn't have the largest population of Jews in the Middle East outside of Israel; a Chief Rabbi in Tehran (whom I've met); wouldn't have Jewish, Christian and Zoroastrian members of parliament (that's a branch of the government, Gov, in case you don't know what a Parliament is; kind of like our Congress), and synagogues and churches would not be standing on Iranian soil. True, religious tolerance still has a ways to go, but again, if you were to listen to Khatami's speeches and examine his statements (going all the way back to before his presidency), you'd find that he's always advocated complete tolerance. And again, another reminder; the president of Iran does not control the judiciary.
"Khatami pretends to be a moderate, but he is not. My hope is that the United States will find and work with real voices of moderation inside Iran. But we will never make progress in the region if we deal with wolves in sheep's clothing," said Romney.
It' s great that the governor knows exactly where Khatami falls in the Iranian political spectrum, given his complete lack of knowledge of Iran in every other instance.
Governor Romney, perhaps unwittingly, plays right into the hands of extremists in Iran through his words and actions. If he or his staff had bothered to check the Iranian press, TV or radio in the last week or so (you can do so on the "internets", Gov), they would have seen that Khatami's U.S. trip has been largely ignored inside Iran, a clear sign that it is not fully endorsed by the current government. But the Governor can take solace in the fact that he is not alone in openly criticizing Khatami and his U.S. visa; the hardline daily Kayhan published a piece by the wife of a government spokesman decrying Khatami's travels to the U.S., and Shargh, a reformist daily, subtly responded by pointing out her viewpoint was shared by the "Zionist" groups in the U.S. that had also opposed Khatami's trip.
A little education can go a long way, Governor.