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Western Press Review: Islamic Conference Sees Two Faces Of Iran

  • Don Hill



Prague, 10 December 1997 RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary examines the riddle of a world Islamic conference in Tehran. It unites representatives of 55 Islamic nations, including at least 30 heads of state, in deliberations. And it opened dramatically with polar statements on how Islamic society should deal with the rest of the world.

NEW YORK TIMES: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's address was bound to unsettle Saudi and other Gulf leaders

Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, set one tone by urging resistance against Islam's "persistent and cunning enemies" and calling for defiance of "the poisonous breath" of the United States. In a news analysis today, The New York Times' Douglas Jehl writes: "The address was bound to unsettle Saudi and other (Persian) Gulf leaders who since the Iranian revolution of 1979 have remained wary of Iranian intentions and now rely for their security on American protection. It must also have rankled Egypt and Jordan, who by making peace with Israel have established close bonds with Washington."

TIMES: The moderate President appears to be winning the struggle against his hardline rivals

Michael Theodoulou, writing today in an analysis for The Times of London, says that despite Khamenei's rhetoric, moderate voices are emerging in Iran. He writes: "Backed by a demonstration of popular support, President (Mohammed) Khatami, the moderate elected by Iranians seven months ago, appears to be winning the struggle against his hardline rivals. Even Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme religious leader long seen as the leading Islamic hardliner, is moving closer to Mr. Khatami's reformist camp."

The Times' correspondent writes: "While Ayatollah Khamenei had shunted aside the president to address the opening session of yesterday's Islamic conference summit in Tehran with an attack on Israel and the West's 'carnal desires' and 'gluttony,' he also remarked on Mr. Khatami's 'brilliant election victory.' There may have been more to the unexpected tribute than merely an attempt to boost the fa�ade of unity before leaders from 55 Islamic states. Mr Khatami, in turn, delivered a starkly contrasting message, arguing that Islamic civil society and its Western counterpart were not necessarily in conflict."

WASHINGTON POST: Rarely have differences been aired in such a public manner

In The Washington Post today, staff writer John Lancaster describes a "deepening power struggle in Iran." Lancaster writes in a news analysis: "The two opening speeches were symptomatic of a deepening power struggle in Iran between religious hard-liners and moderates, led by Khatemi, whose advocacy of greater cultural and personal freedom has won him widespread support among women, young people and educated elites. Rarely, however, have those differences been aired in such a public manner."

GUARDIAN: It would be bizarre if outdate U.S. policy missed the chance for constructive engagement

From London today, The Guardian editorializes that the U.S. policy towards Iran is outdated. The Guardian says: "The gathering of Islamic states in Tehran is an achievement for its Iranian hosts even before it begins." The editorial says: "The region has its own identity regardless of Western labels, and especially so when the only initiative coming from the West -- the now misnamed Middle East peace process -- has run into the ground."

The Guardian says: "Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia even has offered mediation between the United States and Iran. It would be bizarre, and perhaps disastrous, if outdate U.S. policy missed the chance for constructive engagement, and the hardliners in Washington joined forces with the mullahs in Tehran."

FINANCIAL TIMES: An innovative idea came from Ayatollah Khamenei who proposed the OIC should become a permanent member of the UN Security Council

Robin Allen writes from Tehran in today's issue of the British business daily Financial Times : "President Mohammed Khatami made an implicit call for a dialogue with Western countries and more tolerance of dissent in Islamic societies among all groups 'who keep within the framework of law and order'."

The writer says: "An innovative idea came in Ayatollah Khamenei's closing words when he proposed the OIC should become a permanent member of the UN Security Council and be the sixth country 'with a right of veto'." She writes: "Iranian and foreign diplomatic analysts suggested Mr. Khatami's use of the Koran, the Islamic holy book, to support his call for governments' public accountability, will have struck a responsive chord among a large majority of Iranians and members of the worldwide Islamic community."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The western public forget that a large-scale attack on western values would first require Islamic unity

The very idea of "Islamic community" arouses skepticism says a commentary by the Sueddeutsche Zeitung's Tomas Avenarius. He writes: "The Iranian ambassador to Cairo has for years been persona non grata in the Egyptian capital. The Syrians and Iraqis loudly criticize Turkey's military relations with the hated Israeli regime. And the Muslim state of Albania, stumbling along on the margins of this chaos, wants to remove itself completely from the community of Islamic states. So much for the Islamic states' sense of community and of the friendship between Muslims.

"When representatives of 55 states began the two-day summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in the Iranian capital Teheran (yesterday), one thing was clear: the Western public sees the slogan 'clash of cultures' and the supposed dangers of an Islamic threat -- and its sees them as factors led by the Iranians. They forget that a large-scale attack on western values would first require Islamic unity. Past events have shown that the Muslim states have far more often taken up arms against fellow Muslims than non-Muslim states: Iran against Iraq, Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, the involvement of Arab states in the subsequent anti-Saddam coalition, the civil war in Afghanistan, the lasting battles among the Kurds."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Abdullah made a strong plea for Muslims to reject militancy and violence



In today's Los Angeles Times, John Daniszewski writes in a news analysis that the speech by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah "could be viewed as a veiled criticism of his Iranian hosts." Daniszewski says: "Abdullah made a strong plea for Muslims to reject militancy and violence. The heir to the Saudi throne said no one 'should try to dictate to his Muslim brothers how to think and how to work.' He condemned as loathsome and barbaric 'heinous crimes being committed in the name of Islam' under the pretext of the desire for an Islamic form of government. 'Are these killers who slit the throats of their victims. . . to be trusted? Are they qualified to create an Islamic state?' he asked."

NEW YORK TIMES: Far more significant than the Islamic Conference is Turkey's answer to fundamentalists and dictators

New York Times commentator William Safire, writing from Washington, points to another Middle East meeting. He writes: "Two meetings are taking place this week that will affect the power balances of tomorrow's Middle East. Most eyes are on Tehran's Islamic Conference, where leaders of 55 mostly Muslim nations listen impassively to a radical ayatollah -- whose internal theological authority they know is crumbling -- rail at the 'poisonous breath' of the United States and Israel.

Less observed abroad, but far more significant, is Turkey's answer to fundamentalists and dictators: the first official visit to Turkey of an Israeli defense minister, accompanied by a large delegation of military officials, technicians and business executives."

Safire concludes: "In ancient times, the Jews and Greeks lost to the Romans, who were swallowed up into the Byzantine Empire, which was broken up by the Turks, Persians, Russians, Arabs and Venetians. In modern times, the Turks and Jews are protecting themselves against the Persians of Iran and Arabs of Iraq and Syria, who are supported by the Russians, Greeks, and Goths and Romans of Europe. The Venetians seem to be out of it, as are the Americans."
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