Related topics

Iran’s Spiritual Leader Calls United States and Israel Enemies of Islam, but Iranian

December 9, 1997

Iran’s Spiritual Leader Calls United States and Israel Enemies of Islam, but Iranian President Says There Is No Conflict With Western Hemisphere NationsBy ANWAR FARUQI

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ The contrasting faces of Iran’s religious government were on display Tuesday at the opening of the Islamic summit, with a top leader blasting the West and another adopting a friendlier tone.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s hard-line spiritual leader who is the country’s top authority, opened the summit in Tehran of more than 50 Muslim leaders from around the world, branding the United States and Israel as Islam’s strongest foes.

In an inaugural speech to the summit of the eighth Organization of the Islamic Conference, Khamenei said the West had little to offer Muslims except a bankrupt lifestyle based on loose morals.

``The Western materialistic civilization is directing everyone toward materialism, and money, gluttony, and carnal desires are made the greatest aspirations,″ Khamenei said.

He also assured the Islamic world it had nothing to fear from Iran, which once had vowed to export its religious revolution that ousted a pro-U.S. shah in 1979 and installed the rule of the clergy.

Referring to the United States, Khamenei said: ``For 18 years now, the political designers of arrogance are breathing their poisonous breath to make our neighbors in the Persian Gulf fearful of Islamic Iran, which holds the banner of unity and brotherhood.″

Minutes later, Iran’s moderate President Mohammad Khatami told the leaders at the summit that there was no conflict between Islam and the West.

``Our era is an era of preponderance of the Western culture and civilization, whose understanding is imperative,″ he said.

While Khamenei’s speech focused on Islam’s historical greatness, Khatami looked to the future.

``We can transform our destiny through awareness, resolve and solidarity,″ Khatami said.

Speaking at length about human rights and the need for freedom of speech, he said an Islamic government ``is the servant of the people and not their master, and in any eventuality, is accountable to the people whom God has entitled to determine their own destiny.″

Khamenei and Khatami, who represent opposing factions inside Iran’s Islamic government, are locked in a political tug-of-war whose outcome will determine Iran’s future course.

Khatami, who lived in Germany for several years, spoke of ``dialogue among civilizations and cultures.″

Khatami received nearly 70 percent of the vote in the May elections against a hard-line candidate backed by Khamenei.

Iran hopes that the OIC summit, the largest gathering of international leaders in Iran since its 1979 revolution, will make new friends out of old foes like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which bankrolled Iraq in its 1980-88 war against Iran.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are the two most influential countries in the Muslim world. Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah is attending the summit, and an expected meeting between him and Khatami is likely to mark a turning point in relations, ending nearly two decades of hostility.

Khamenei’s strong speech, criticizing the U.S. military presence in the Gulf, might, however, make mending faces with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait more difficult. Both countries host U.S. forces.

Saudi Arabia has been extremely nervous about criticism of its U.S. bases since a June 1996 bombing at a U.S. military barracks in the eastern city of Dhahran killed 19 American airmen. The attack underscored the depth of internal opposition to the U.S. military presence.

In a statement released before Khamenei’s speech, Prince Abdullah said that difference was ``one of God’s traditions,″ and warned that no Muslim nation should tell another ``how to think or behave.″

Khamenei blasted the Middle East peace process. But apparently out of diplomatic tact he did not name any Arab nations such as Egypt, Jordan, Oman and Qatar, which have diplomatic or commercial ties with Israel.

``Our opposition to the so-called Middle East peace process is because it is unjust, arrogant, contemptuous, and finally illogical,″ said Khamenei.

``Perhaps the existence of an enemy such as Israel in the heart of the Islamic land could have brought us closer ... (but) right now we fear each other more than we fear the enemy,″ said Khamenei.

With U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan also present as an observer, Khamenei called on the world body to give it a permanent seat and veto power in the five-member U.N. Security Council.

Update hourly