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French police rounded up activists from the opposition Mujahedin-eKhalq on the eve of President Khatami's landmark visit to France, inan effort to prevent demonstrations from marring a visit whereextensive trade agreements were signed.
The pre-dawn raids, which began on October 26, the day beforeKhatami arrived, were accompanied by stepped up controls at France'sinternational borders. French immigration police turned away allIranian nationals except for those in Khatami's official delegation,and carried their diligence to such an extreme that an American bornin Iran and a group of Iranian-born Canadians were also turned backat the border.
Normally, France cannot control visitors arriving from otherEuropean Union countries because of the Schengen agreement, whichabolished internal border controls within the EU. But ForeignMinistry spokeswoman Anne Gazeau-Secret revealed on Oct. 26 thatParis had asked Italy and Germany to suspend the Schengen rules fromOctober 23 to 29 because of the Khatami visit.
Despite the vigilance, protesters greeted Khatami at virtuallyevery step of his three day visit, the first ever by an IranianPresident since the Revolution, pelting his car with eggs, tomatoes,and yellow paint. Khatami met with President Chirac, hosted abreakfast with forty prominent business leaders that led to theannouncement of $771 million in Iranian purchases of Frenchindustrial goods, gave a speech at UNESCO, and even visited thePantheon, where he lay a wreath on the tomb of French writer EmileZola, famous for his defense of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a French Jewfalsely accused of giving military secrets to the Germans in 1894whom Zola defended in his famous "J'accuse" open letter in 1898.
The speech at UNESCO, initially scheduled for Wednesday, was twicerescheduled because French police feared protesters would blockKhatami's arrival at the UN building in Paris. UNESCO was surroundedby police on Friday when Khatami finally spoke. The Frenchtemporarily closed three of the busiest Metro stations during thespeech - Concorde, Invalides, and Champs-Elysées - in aneffort to prevent the arrival of protesters. Despite that, Khatami'scar was struck with a ripe tomato by a woman later identified asSabine Modig, 40. She was hauled away by police after pounding herfist on the car. She had gained entry to the grounds with an officialbadge identifying her as a UNESCO delegate from Niger.
The protests were not limited to headline-grabbing efforts by theMujahedin. A group of French intellectuals, includingFrance-Libertés (an association headed by Danielle Mitterrand,widow of the former French President François Mitterrand),criticized the French government for hosting "the president of agovernment which quells social movements... oppresses women... huntsintellectuals... holds the freedom of expression in ridicule...harasses religious minorities... and is the symbol of a bloodyepisode of contemporary History."
Downgraded: Because of Iranian government protests over Frenchplans to hold an official banquet in his honor, where wine would beserved, Khatami's trip had been rescheduled from earlier this yearand was downgraded from a state visit to an official visit. Officialvisitors do not receive the state banquet. The downgrading also meantthat no Iranian flags were flown from French lampposts, as had beenthe case just days earlier, when Chinese President Jiang Zeminpreceded Khatami to Paris.
In fact, Khatami appears to have been invited not by the Frenchgovernment, but by outgoing UNESCO director general Federico Mayor,the French Press Agency reported from Paris (AFP 10/27).
During his UNESCO speech, Khatami criticized the United States forattempting to impose "neocolonialism" on the rest of the world. "TheNew World Order and the globalization that certain powers are tryingto make us accept.... in which the cultures of the entire world areignored, looks like a kind of neocolonialism," he said.
At a subsequent news conference, he also had harsh words for theFrench. Responding to a question about repression of Baha'is in Iran,Khatami countered by asking why five million Muslims living in Francewere not recognized as distinct ethnic group. He urged France to makeIslam an official religion, something the secular French state hasnot done with any faith. And he rejected accusations of Iraniangovernment repression of the Baha'is, calling them "the product ofextensive lobbies for these groups internationally."
Khatami also seized the occasion to blast Israel and reassert theIranian government's opposition to the Middle East peace process."How can we expect lasting peace for millions of people living anddying in camps while others occupy their ancestral land," he asked,referring to the Palestinian Diaspora. "Any peace must be based onjustice otherwise those who suffer oppression will revolt," headded.
(Israel and Palestinian Authority delegations began final statusnegotiations early this month, following the Oslo summit. Israel hasmade it clear it will not grant a "right of return" to thePalestinian Diaspora, believed to be as numerous as Israel's Jewishpopulation, but will instead discuss the rights of refugees to someform of compensation. So far, Israel has not insisted on similarcompensation for Jews who fled to Israel after 1948 from Arabcountries and who also lost their property as a result of theArab-Israeli conflicts, although some groups in Israel are beginningto raise the issue).
The deals: Khatami's visit would not have been complete withoutthe deals, all $771 million of them. They included:
The purchase of four Airbus A-330 passenger jets, for $480million. Until now, the United States has managed to block the saleof civilian airliners to Iran Air because of the 10% de minimusruling regarding U.S. content. Airbus planes normally include closeto 30% U.S. content, between avionics systems and the engines, whichare made by CFM, a joint venture between Snecma and General Electric.To get around that ruling, Airbus Industrie offers aircraft withBritish-built Rolls Royce engines and European avionics. It was notannounced what solution was found for the four planes.
The purchase of 100 diesel-electric locomotives, for $201million, from Alsthom, the maker of the French TGV high-speed train.The first 20 locomotives will be assembled in France. Alsthom agreedto an extensive technology sharing agreement as part of the deal, andwill help Pars Wagon set up a facility to assemble the remaining 80locomotives in Iran from kits.
Iran also announced it was buying 10 airport radar sitesfrom France for $90 million.
All three deals have been in the works for some time. In fact, theradar purchase was first announced in August 1998 by the head of theCivil Aviation Organization, Ali Shahcheraghi, shortly before hisdeath in a plane crash inside Iran. Shahcheraghi said the French hadalready begun building the ten radar sites at airports around thecountry, and would also supply two central data control centers aspart of a nation-wide Communication Navigation Surveillance and AirTraffic Management System (CNS-ATM) intended to link airports and airtraffic control radar nation-wide using satellite communications. Atthe time, he said the deal would cost Iran $80 million, not $90million. (Cf. "Iran attends DPRK test," TIB 9/8/98).
Iranian newspapers speculated prior to the Khatami visit thatFrance was preparing to make a $1.5 billion loan to Iran for thepurchase of French goods, but no such agreement was announced duringthe visit.
French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine was thrown on thedefensive in the National Assembly the day Khatami arrived in Paris,because of Iran's human rights record and especially its arrest of 13Iranian Jews earlier this year. "I don't see how democracy willprogress more quickly in countries that buy Boeing rather than Airbusjets," he retorted.
In Iran, Khatami's visit got mixed reviews. The pro-reform pressprominently displayed photographs of Khatami's UNESCO appearance onthe front pages. Sobh-e Emrouz said Iranians felt proud to see theirpresident address UNESCO. "This feeling of pride and dignity isexactly what most Iranians have been yearning for since the earlymonths of the 1979 revolution," it said.
The reformist Payam-e Azadi had harsh words for those criticizingPresident Khatami's "moderate" language while in France. The paperunderscored Khatami's true agenda, which is to attract Westerninvestment to Iran. Khatami's critics "should take into account thatin order to attract foreign investors, save Iran's ailing economy andfind an appropriate position on the international landscape, we muststop repeating our old statements and start the reform process," thepaper said.
But the hard-line daily Abrar said Iran and Europe could still nottrust one another. "One must assert that the high wall of mistrustbetween Iran and Europe has not fully crumbled," it said in aneditorial. "The Europeans are still unable to understand thepolitical and social developments and currents in Iran, and theirmisunderstanding and one-dimensional interpretations have led to theadoption of unfriendly policies," the daily said.