Iranian president pressed to reject any call for help by Straw
by Guy Dinmore in Tehran
Published: September 23 2001
Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s pro-reform president, on Sunday came under intense pressure from his hardline opponents to reject any request by Jack Straw, UK foreign minister who arrives in Tehran on Monday, for assistance in the event of a US-led attack on suspected terrorist bases in Afghanistan.
Newspapers reflecting the views of hardline clerics portrayed Mr Straw as Washington’s messenger boy and warned that the US was using the suicide attacks on New York and Washington to pursue its own hegemonistic interests.
One conservative newspaper, Kayhan Daily, demanded to know why the government had even agreed to the visit by Mr Straw, the highest ranking British official to set foot in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
“Accepting the British foreign minister is to ignore Islamic principles and the blood of millions of innocent people shed by the US administration in various parts of the world, including Iran, and still being shed in occupied Palestine,” editor Hossein Shariatmadari wrote.
To join “this so-called anti-terrorist coalition” would mean accepting domination from the US, “the main sponsor of terrorism in the world”, he added. Clerics in seminaries in the holy city of Qom also released a statement condemning US policies, while Jam-e-Jam daily said the US military operation codenamed “Infinite Justice” should be called “Infinite Arrogance” instead.
While Mr Straw can expect a more sympathetic welcome on Tuesday from Mr Khatami and Kamel Kharrazi, foreign minister, the barrage of anti-US rhetoric has once again raised the question of whether Mr Khatami has the authority to deliver. Foreign policy is directed by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is closely associated with the conservatives and kept Iran neutral during the Gulf war a decade ago.
Iran’s official position, while condemning the attacks on innocent people on the US, is that the United Nations should lead the fight against terrorism and that Tehran would oppose any attack on Afghanistan involving heavy loss of civilian lives.
Within those boundaries, European diplomats are hopeful that Iran could support a limited US-led strike against the exiled Saudi militant, Osama bin Laden. Iran supports Afghan factions opposed to Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban regime, which has let Mr bin Laden stay in the country.
Without publicising its actions, Iran could discreetly share intelligence and perhaps lend the use of its air space in an emergency.
Some reformists have openly suggested that Iran should support a US operation against the Taliban. Mohammad Reza Khatami, leader of the largest party in parliament, yesterday urged the president, his brother, to reject the “weak, passive and ambiguous reactions” pursued by conservatives.