Ex-Iran President’s U.S. Visit Is Slap in the Face

The issuance of a U.S. visa to Mohammad Khatami, former president of the Islamic Republic of Iran until he was succeeded by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Khatami’s presence this week on
U.S. soil, is an insult to the American people, a slap in the face to Iran’s pro-democracy movement, a mockery of the immigration and anti-terrorism laws and a continuation of the schizophrenic nonpolicy of the U.S. State Department.

Let me explain.

Khatami was the president of Iran between 1997 and 2004. The State Department listed Iran as the No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism during those years.

During the Khatami era, Iran sheltered Imad Mughaniyeh; gave refuge to Al Qaeda terrorists who fled to Iran, including Saad bin Ladin; continued to support Hamas and Hezbollah; and refused to hand over to the United States the Iranian intelligence officials who supervised the attack on Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia that resulted in the deaths of many fine American soldiers. Khatami continues to support Hezbollah and Hamas and has called for the destruction of Israel.

This is why Khatami’s admission to the United States and his current lecture tour should be considered an insult to the American people.

During the Khatami era, freedom of press and assembly was relaxed by the Iranian intelligence and security apparatus to lull the reformists and true democrats into a false sense of security. Thousands and thousands of students, journalists, women and clerics started to express their opinions freely. Those people are now either dead or are languishing in prisons.

During the Khatami era, dissidents were killed, women were stoned and Jews, journalists, Kurds and others were sent to prison. Khatami was president during the biggest crackdown on the media since the beginning of the Iranian revolution.

Khatami was president when Jews were sent to prison on charges of espionage. Khatami was president when Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi was killed, and Khatami was president when thousands of university students were arrested after the 1999 student riots.

While Khatami is feasting in the banquets being thrown in his honor by Muslim organizations, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Ahmad Batebi, the hero of the 1999 student movement, faces another day of torture and beatings in solitary confinement.

This is why Khatami’s presence in the United States is a slap in the face to Iran’s pro-democracy movement.

The issuance of a visa to Khatami has made a mockery of the immigration and anti-terrorism laws of the United States. Under the laws of the United States, it is a federal crime to aid and abet terrorist organizations. As a supporter of terrorism, Khatami was inadmissible under U.S. immigration laws and should not have been allowed entry.

It is shocking that the U.S. Bureau of Diplomatic Security zealously investigates and federal prosecutors zealously prosecute Iranian Americans who help Iranian dissidents flee to safety and seek refuge but turn a blind eye to what a mockery Khatami’s presence in the United States is.

The State Department, by issuing a visa to Khatami, and the Department of Homeland Security, by admitting Khatami into the country, have not just made a mockery of our laws but should be looked at as co-conspirators of Khatami.
In 1999, I met my first State department official. His name was Chris Stevens, and he was an Iran desk officer. On the door of his office was a cartoon. The cartoon depicted an executioner holding a bloody chainsaw, while wearing a smiley face. The caption read: “Khatami’s Iran.”

Chris told me that was his view of Khatami’s Iran. I asked why was it that the State Department did not do something about Iran. I was told that the Clinton administration was distracted by other issues, but that one day, the schizophrenic approach toward Iran would end. Sadly it has not.

It is heartbreaking to see Khatami speak at the Washington National Cathedral days before the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11. The American people have experienced and learned a lot since that historic day about who they are and what America stands for. The State Department has not.

Pooya Dayanim is president of the Iranian Jewish Public Affairs Committee and past foreign affairs director of the Iran Referendum Movement. He can be reached at