The Iranian


email us

US Transcom
US Transcom

Sehaty Foreign Exchange

    News & views

Khatami visit to Italy marks new credibility for Iran

TEHRAN, March 8 (AFP) - President Mohammad Khatami's visit to Italy this week, the first by an Iranian leader to a western European nation since the 1979 revolution, marks a major triumph on the road to international credibility for the Islamic regime.

Khatami's visit, which begins Tuesday and will include talks with Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro and a Vatican meeting with Pope John Paul II, is the clearest sign yet that his bid to increase Iran's standing in the eyes of the international community is succeeding.

Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini on Sunday welcomed the trip and said Italy wanted to help Iran "out of isolation."

"If Europe wants to be a model for others, it must understand and respect others," he told an Italian newspaper.

"Isolation cannot promote a more open and tolerant society," Dini said.

Those words might serve as a concise statement of the reformist agenda Khatami has attempted to put in place after some 70 percent of Iranian voters swept him to power in 1997.

Earlier this month in the Islamic republic's first-ever municipal elections -- another product of Khatami's programme -- pro-reform candidates made decisive gains that can only be further consolidated by the president's statesmanship in Italy.

The high-profile visit has been hailed in the Iranian press despite opposition from the regime's hardliners to his gradual warming to the West.

"Iran and western Europe are going to open a new page in their relations," the English-language Kayhan International trumpeted on Sunday.

It said Khatami had "earned Iran international credibility and prestige" and that his trip would mark a departure from the "previously one-sided critical dialogue" between Tehran and Europe.

The Iran News particularly praised Khatami's planned audience with the pope, saying it would be a "first step toward a dialogue between Christianity and Islam."

But religious dialogue could take a back seat to economic matters as Khatami's presence on the international stage affords Iran an ideal opportunity to convince nervous foreign investors that the Islamic republic is stable -- and open for business.

The Iran Daily, published by the state news agency IRNA, said Sunday that boosting the nation's flagging economy is "essentially an exercise in public relations."

It said Khatami should seize the moment to demonstrate the country's "stability and the viability of the political system," and urged him to work toward negotiating an international credit line of up to 50 billion dollars.

Khatami's visit comes on the heels of a 540 million dollar deal Iran signed earlier this month with Italian oil firm ENI along with France's Elf Aquitaine to develop one of the Islamic republic's fertile offshore fields, while the president is already set to visit France next month.

Iran depends on oil revenues for some 80 percent of its hard currency and the economy is facing a budget shortfall of more than five billion dollars due to the worldwide slump in crude prices.

It has also been wracked by the unilateral trade embargo the United States imposed in 1995 as well as sanctions Washington put in place a year later against foreign firms investing more than 20 million dollars in Iran's oil sector.

But Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi stepped up the pressure to end the embargo on Sunday with a shock announcement that US firms face "no obstacle" to participating in the Iranian oil industry.

The announcement was a direct challenge to Washington's policy and, coming on the eve of Khatami's visit, underscored Tehran's improving relations with Europe while the United States maintains its frosty distance.

Last week an Italian professor of Islamic studies even hailed Khatami as the "most respected personality in the Middle East," a remark reprinted widely in the Iranian press.

After Khatami receives his warm welcomes in Italy this week, Washington may find it harder to disagree.


Copyright © 1997 Abadan Publishing Co. All Rights Reserved. May not be duplicated or distributed in any form

 MIS Internet Services

Web Site Design by
Multimedia Internet Services, Inc

 GPG Internet server

Internet server by
Global Publishing Group.