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Moderation in Iran is still a mirage

BY: Reza Alizadeh
The Dallas Morning News
May 22, 1999, Saturday

Two years ago this week, Mohammad Khatami was elected the Iranian regime's president. Everyone agrees that his election was a landmark event in the history of the theocratic state, but the unanimity ends there.

Mr. Khatami's election was promoted in the press as the beginning of the long-awaited transformation of the religious dictatorship into a (relatively) moderate, democratic state. He is looked upon by some people as a genuine reformer locked in an uphill struggle against the "hard-line" clerical establishment.

Other people acknowledge that Mr. Khatami's words may differ somewhat from the vitriolic invective that has come out of Iran during the past two decades, but they argue that the man should be judged by his deeds. Viewed in that light, Mr. Khatami looks like an insider firmly committed to the clerics' monopoly on power.

Where does Washington stand? Apparently on the "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" side. By such thinking, Mr. Khatami is the West's best candidate as a moderate interlocutor in Iran, an indispensable country if only for reasons of geopolitics and natural resources.

Again, according to such thinking, the United States must do nothing to antagonize the current Iranian leadership, for that only would jeopardize Mr. Khatami's tenuous position. The tricky questions of terrorism, human rights violations and any other sensitive issue that may provoke the wrath of the ruling clerics must be avoided or raised in a manner that doesn't rock the boat.

That policy has produced a lengthy list of unrequited goodwill gestures, but little else. Iran was removed from the U.S. list of major drug-producing countries last year. Similarly, trade sanctions were loosened last month, and U.S. companies were permitted to sell food and medicine to Iran. In its annual terrorism report released last month, the State Department dropped its designation of the mullahs' regime as the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism.

The reality is quite different. In remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York last month, Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk acknowledged that Iran continues its support for a variety of terrorist groups in the Middle East, is pushing for nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction and remains firmly opposed to the Middle East peace process.

In fact, there isn't a single area where any substantive improvement in Iran's behavior can be demonstrated. The latest session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission concluded that grave, systematic violations of human rights including public executions, torture, stoning and arbitrary arrests were continuing. Under Mr. Khatami, women still are discriminated against and suppressed.

Two years into Mr. Khatami's presidency, there is no sign of "moderation," and there have been no reforms. The facts are clear: The Iranian people's conflict with their dictatorial rulers is irreconcilable.

The leader of the Iranian resistance, Massoud Rajavi, always has made it clear that if the mullahs and their allies want to be true to their words, they should try their luck against the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance, Maryam Rajavi, in a free election supervised by the United Nations.

But the clerical regime, including Mr. Khatami, never would allow that. Moderation or reform would be the kiss of death for the rulers, a fact no one grasps better than Mr. Khatami himself. Two years into his presidency, he has proved to be the poison chalice not the magic potion of the mullahs' rule in Iran.

* Reza Alizadeh is president of the Iranian-American Society of Dallas.


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