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Powell Pays Tribute to Iranian Honorees

By Nora Boustany
The Washington Post
March 7, 2001

Even when relations between countries are not optimal, holding out hope for some kind of dialogue and cultural recognition is a practical diplomatic strategy.

On Friday, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell paid tribute to the Encyclopedia Iranica Foundation and its honorees in books, film, photography, literature, technology and the arts by sending just such a message of hope to its annual gala. Tehran refuses to engage in dialogue with any U.S. administration until frozen Iranian assets seized during the 1979 Islamic revolution are released. Powell's letter

"It is the very people you honor tonight -- the writers, artists, scholars and their benefactors -- who help sustain this dialogue in difficult times. It of ten falls to them to be the voice of our common humanity when politics would keep us silent," Powell said in a letter read to guests during a lavish evening of Iranian music and poetry at the Four Seasons Hotel. "In a resolution cosponsored by the United States and Iran, the United Nations has declared 2001 to be the year of 'Dialogue Among Civilizations,' " Powell said.

Iranian film director Jafar Panahi, an honoree whose work includes "The White Balloon" and "The Circle," noted at the gala that he had always dreamed "to get an award among my own people, so this is a very happy moment" even though "it does not come from Iran itself." "The Circle," a film about the plight of women in Iran that pushes the limits of free expression, has yet to be authorized for release in his homeland.

The New York Times' Elaine Sciolino was honored for her book "Persian Mirrors," which unveils the inner life and contradictions of Iranian society. The work of American and British scholars on Abol Ghassem Ferdousi, Iran's great epic poet, and Jalaluddin Rumi, Persia's venerated 13th century poet and philosopher, was also honored. "Out beyond ideas of right doing and wrongdoing. There is a field. I'll meet you there," Rumi once wrote.

Proceeds from the benefit will support completion of the vast Encyclopedia Iranica, a task that could take 10 more years, according to Ehsan Yarshater, its founding editor and director of the Center for Iranian Studies at Columbia University. After a traditional dinner of pistachio soup, fish steamed in herbs and oranges, and aromatic rice, guests took part in an auction, bidding on donated silk Persian carpets, paintings and vacations at a French chateau as well as a gold Rolex watch offered by Princess Ashraf Pavlavi, the twin of the late shah of Iran.


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