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Western Press Review: Iran Basks in Islam's Sun

  • Don Hill



Prague, 9 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentators look on with fascination as the Muslim world rallies today in Tehran, capital of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Views vary but one thread runs through the commentary: the U.S. drive to isolate Iran has collapsed.

FINANCIAL TIMES: The clerical regime in Tehran is coming in from the cold

The British newspaper Financial Times in today's editions puts it this way: "The clerical regime in Tehran, until now feared for its attempts to export its brand of militant Islam throughout the region, is coming in from the cold."

The Financial Times editorial says: "Today, 54 Muslim countries, more than 30 of them represented by their heads of state, are in Tehran for an Islamic summit which will be the biggest international gathering in Iran since the 1979 revolution. By contrast, last month's U.S.-backed Middle East economic conference in Qatar was boycotted by Washington's Arab friends or attended by lowly officials."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: To Iran the success of the Islamic summit is simply recognition of its increasing geopolitical importance



In the United States, the internationally-oriented newspaper, Christian Science Monitor, says the rise of Iran demonstrates a failure of U.S. policy in the Mideast. Staff writer Scott Peterson, in Tehran, says: "Perhaps the most potent symbol of Iran's re-emergence in the Arab and Islamic world is the gold-embroidered tapestry on loan from Saudi Arabia for the eighth Islamic summit, which opens here today. It usually hangs in spiritual splendor in the Muslim holy city of Mecca in western Saudi Arabia, toward which more than one thousand million Muslims worldwide address their prayers each day."

The writer says: "Even as Iran's star begins to rise, though, the flocking of leaders of some 55 Islamic states to Iran also reflects a broad failure of U.S. policy in the region. Western and Islamic analysts alike blame what they see as Israel's deliberate undermining of the Arab-Israel peace process and Washington's lackluster efforts to pressure Israel." Peterson writes: "To Iran, the success of the Islamic summit is simply recognition of its increasing geopolitical importance since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Iran sees itself as the obvious route for Caspian and Central Asian oil and gas to reach the Persian Gulf."

TIMES: Toning down revolutionary rhetoric has given Iran a broader base from which to fight international ostracism

The Times of London editorializes today that a new, more moderate, government in Iran may be broadening the base from which the country is shaking off isolation. The newspaper says: "The summit is an important test for Muhammad Khatami, the relatively reasonable new president, elected in the teeth of opposition from the religious Establishment and clerical opportunists. He must demonstrate not only that reforms can win friends, but that toning down of revolutionary rhetoric has given Iran a broader base from which to fight international ostracism."

It says: "Mr. Khatami has only people power on his side. Their impatience was on display when football fever spilled into the streets last week. For fear of a vicious backlash, he must move slowly. That applies as much abroad as at home. He will not attempt a volte-face over Middle East peace, anti-Americanism or Islamic zealotry so long as he and his allies are unable to confront the religious police or question the obscurantist legal code. But Mr. Khatami can tone down the propaganda and send out conciliatory signals. The Islamic summit is a pious forum for such pragmatic politics."

WASHINGTON POST: The presence of so many foreign leaders could significantly boost Iran's international prestige at the expense of the United States

In Tehran for The Washington Post, staff writer John Lancaster wrote yesterday in a news analysis that the Islamic summit, though more symbolic than substantive, provides a hoist for Iran's world prestige.

He wrote: "To most of its Arab neighbors, the Islamic Republic of Iran has long been a pariah, an incubator of revolution and religious zealotry, in which one of the capital's major boulevards is named after the killer of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. That may be starting to change."

Lancaster wrote in his news analysis: "Although the eighth Islamic summit conference is likely to yield more symbolism than substance, the presence of so many foreign leaders could significantly boost Iran's international prestige at the expense of the United States, which is seeking to isolate the country diplomatically and economically. The Islamic summit, the first hosted by Iran, is the largest diplomatic gathering here since the 1979 Islamic revolution."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Iran has been trying to show a more benign face to its immediate neighbors

Iran is turning to the world what Los Angeles Times writer John Daniszewski called yesterday "a more benign face." Daniszewski wrote in a news analysis: "This week's Eighth Islamic Summit, the biggest international gathering ever held in Iran, shows just how far this country, ruled by revolutionary turbaned clerics, has come in repairing links with many U.S. friends in the region. Princes and emirs, sheiks and sultans, ministers and rulers will rub elbows at the meeting that begins Tuesday, including senior officials of Egypt, Jordan and every other Arab country considered a member of the region's pro-American bloc."

The writer said: "From Lebanon to Egypt to Algeria, Iran has been accused of fomenting and financing Islamic unrest against conservative regimes for nearly two decades. Only last year, Saudi officials privately identified Iran as the chief suspect in a truck bombing that killed 19 U.S. military personnel in the city of Dhahran. But recently Iran has been trying to show a more benign face to its immediate neighbors even while it still regularly blasts the United States as 'the Great Arrogance' and remains firmly opposed to accepting Israel's place in the Middle East."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: There is little of an encouraging nature to counter the plunging confidence in Russian aviation.

Substantial Western commentary also deals with problems of Eastern economies. A commentator in the Suddeutsche Zeitung sees a lack of roubles as related to the weekend's air crash in Siberia; and a Journal of Commerce commentary describes Russian President Boris Yeltsin's plea for still more economic aid from Germany.

Frank Nienhuysen writes today in the Suddeutsche Zeitung: "The little black box which it is hoped will cast light on the cause of the plane disaster in the Siberian city of Irkutsk is still being examined in Moscow. One thing, however, is already clear. Confidence in Russian aviation, already low, will plunge even further. And indeed there is little of an encouraging nature to counter this trend. For a long time serious budget difficulties have forced the government to adopt a very tough cost-cutting line, which affects not only public sector employees but also the Russian aviation industry both civilian and military."
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