Action memorandum 038

January 9, 1998

Khatami seeks end to sanctions, not dialogue

President Hojjat-ol eslam Mohammad Khatami's much-acclaimed televisioninterview with CNN, broadcast on Jan. 7, was hyped by CNN as presentinga "new opening" of the US.-Iran relationship. A careful analysisof what Mr. Khatami actually said, however, shows that his speech was aimednot at restoring diplomatic relations with the U.S., or even in promotingcloser ties between Americans and Iranians, but in getting the U.S. tradeembargo and sanctions legislation lifted.

Mr. Khatami complained bitterly that the U.S. has adopted "a hostilepolicy against Iran" ever since the Revolution. "They have triedto inflict economic damage upon us, a clear example of which is the D'Amatoact which represents a continuation of cold war mentality." He wenton: "There must first be a crack in this wall of mistrust to preparefor a change and create an opportunity to study a new situation."

In his promotion of cultural exchanges between the two counries - scholars,writers, artists, and tourists - Mr. Khatami is clearly seeking to createa lobby in the United States that will carry the message of the Tehranregime back to Washington. And that message is simple, and it was statedrepeatedly by Mr. Khatami himself: the Islamic Republic is seeking an endto the U.S. trade embargo, and an end to the D'Amato sanctions, beforeit will even consider a dialogue about the issues Americans care aboutmost: terrorism, Iran's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, and theIslamic Republic's violent opposition of the Middle East peace process.

The unregenerated radical language used by Mr. Khatami to describe Israel("a racist terrorist regime") and his bald dismissal of U.S.charges concerning Iranian terrorism ("supporting peoples who fightfor the liberation of their land is not, in my opin ion, supporting terrorism")shows that Mr. Khatami does not differ in any significant way from theother top leaders of the Tehran regime. Indeed, his repeated referencesto Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i provide clear proof that hisspeech was carefully vetted before it was delivered, and that his initiativewas approved at the highest levels of the Iranian regime.

For many months, Western commentators have expressed hope that Mr. Khatamimight present a "new face" of the Islamic Revolution, somethingof an "Ayatollah Gorbachev." His performance on CNN shows clearlythat this is not the case. Far from the self-criticism of Mr. Gorbachevand his foreign policy advisors, Mr. Khatami stated that everything theIslamic Regime has done over the past seventeen years has been right andwise, and that Iran's current economic woes are just the result of U.S."hostility." We have heard the same rhetoric from Rafsanjani,Khamene'i, Nateq-Nour, and others for years.

Even on the domestic front, where hopes among Iranians had been thehighest, things have continued much the same as before. In 1997, scoresIranians were stoned to death on charges such as adultery. Private partiescontinued to be broken up by the authorities. Opposition leader IbrahimYazdi was jailed for two weeks in December; Grand Ayatollah Montazeri wasbeaten by thugs in November and has since disappeared from circulation,sending a strong message to other clerics who might raise their voice againstthe excesses of the regime.

Iranians voted for change in May 1997. Mr. Khatami's performance onCNN shows that instead they have gotten more of the same.

The Foundation for Democracy in Iran is a private, non-profit corporationregistered in the State of Maryland. Contact: Kenneth R. Timmerman, ExecutiveDirector. Tel: (301) 946-2918. Fax: (301) 942-5341. FDI materials, includingthe FDI Newswire, are available free-of-charge via the Internet at