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Former Iranian President's Visit Provokes Some, Misses Most


*Former Iranian President's Visit Provokes Some, Misses Most*
By Eugene Bird and Carlton Cobb
September 7, 2006

The former president of Iran, Mohammad Khatami, is appearing at six
major events during his visit to the United States this week.  His visit
has provoked widespread condemnation from a U.S. government-sponsored
religious freedom group, by the governor of Massachusetts, and by sundry
pro-Israel activists.  Other than an interview
by Robin Wright in the Washington Post, Khatami has been reduced to
holding his own press conference in Washington, DC, in order to be heard
by the mainstream press.

The press conference, scheduled for 4:30 PM (EDT) today, is expected to
be covered by C-SPAN, but his high-profile appearance this evening at
Washington's National Cathedral is not.  Former president Khatami
(1997-2005) had an audience of 15,000 at the Islamic Society of North
America conference in Chicago this past weekend, which was barely
covered in the American press.  The best coverage
was by Robert Fisk in the London Independent.

Khatami attended a conference at the United Nations earlier this week
and has appearances scheduled at the University of Virginia in
Charlottesville today, a dinner hosted by the Council on
American-Islamic Relations tomorrow night, and Harvard's Kennedy School
of Government on Sunday.

Some Iran observers felt that the U.S. issued the necessary visa because
it wanted to promote Khatami as an alternative and more democratic
Iranian leader than the present one.  This would seem to fit in with the
vision and funding of the Iran Freedom Support Act, passed by Congress
earlier this year, but the sponsor of that resolution, Congresswoman
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) condemned the issuance of a visa to
President Khatami.

Coupled to their protestations that it was not seriously connected to
attempts to topple the present government of Iran, CNI believes that
issuing Khatami a visa was a symbolic gesture by the Bush Administration
for a new dialogue.  Despite the fact that Khatami was beaten by the
present president in the last election, the administration may see him
as a "back channel" to the current Iranian government, and the moderate,
progressive Khatami might become a valuable ally in the future.  Testing
this thesis, the reaction of Iranians to Khatami's visit here might be
as important as the reaction of the American public.

Missing from the former president's agenda, however, is any appearance
on Capitol Hill, where enmity towards Iran, and Muslims in general, is
strongest and where his calls for a "dialogue between civilizations"
most need to be heard

Council for the National Interest Foundation
1250 4th Street SW, Suite WG-1
Washington, District of Columbia 20024
Phone: 202-863-2951
Fax: 202-863-2952
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