The visit to Italy this week of President Mohammad Khatami of Iran, the first by an Iranian leader to western Europe since the Islamic revolution of 1979, was a major international story Wednesday across Europe and the Middle East. In the Saudi daily Asharq al-Awsat, Amir Taheri, a prominent Iranian newspaper editor under the shah, now living in exile, urged the West to give cautious support to the reforming president, while pressing for further changes in Iran’s policies. Khatami, he wrote, is the first Iranian president to have been “elected through a more or less acceptable process” and a leader who has ended Iran’s acts of terrorism in Europe and its “active campaign against the Middle East peace process.” He has also established an indirect dialogue with Israel and invited French and British Jewish leaders to visit Tehran.
In Germany, Die Welt and the Süddeutsche Zeitung of Munich both saw the visit as a demonstration of the extraordinary progress that has been made in Iran’s relations with the West since Khatami came to power two years ago. In an op-ed article Wednesday, the Financial Times of London said Khatami’s objectives in Italy were threefold–to win Western endorsement for his reforming efforts, to foster international acceptance of Iran as a regional power with legitimate security interests, and to entice urgently needed foreign investment. The FT claimed that the recent municipal elections backing his reform program were “the first local elections in over 2,500 years of Persian history.” But Khatami’s charm offensive is being impeded by Iran’s apparent attempts to develop nuclear weapons, fueling the drive for more sanctions by the U.S. Congress. “The nuclear issue and US sanctions on Iran greatly complicate the Khatami government’s efforts to reform the economy,” the newspaper said.
In Italy, La Stampa dwelt on the coincidence of Salman Rushdie’s arrival in the country, on the same day as Khatami, to receive an honorary degree from the University of Turin. The Turin newspaper said that while Rushdie, the object of a fatwa issued 10 years ago by the Ayatollah Khomeini, still can’t be free of the nightmare that some Muslim fanatic might try to kill him, “it is certain that Iran, whatever it does, cannot get free of Rushdie.”
The “banana war” between the United States and Europe was cited in the Pan-Arab al-Quds al-Arabi as a reason for Arabs not to trust the United States. In its main editorial Monday, the paper said the British had particular cause for dismay over the United States’ “punishing tariffs” on their products, because they have given “unquestioning and unhesitating support for all U.S. policies and actions–even to the extent of exposing their own citizens and interests to danger, and calling into question their true commitment to Europe.” The paper said, “The British are learning that the ‘special relationship’ they have spent the last 20 years nurturing with the United States is worthless when economic interests collide. … This behooves us to ask: If the United States treats her most trusted ally, Britain, in such an ungrateful manner, is she going to treat those Arabs who think they can befriend her any better?”
In Paris, Le Monde devoted a full page Wednesday to the banana war, predicting fiercer trade battles to come on hormone-treated beef and genetically modified foods, and on the European A3XX Airbus, which is due to be launched next November in direct competition with the Boeing 747. Le Monde said the United States was isolated on bananas and had managed to unite the whole of Europe against it by “maladroitly” including Scottish cashmere among the European products it has chosen to penalize.
But the main story in French papers Wednesday was the acquittals of former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius and one of his Cabinet colleagues on charges of criminal negligence and manslaughter in the deaths of hundreds of people who contracted AIDS in the 1980s from transfusions of contaminated blood. The Paris evening paper France-Soir reflected widespread outrage at the verdict with a front-page headline saying the dead had been “mocked.” Referring to the late President François Mitterrand’s establishment of a special court to try Fabius et al., the paper said that “no ordinary accused have ever been treated with such consideration in the annals of French justice.” Special justice means that the strong always triumph, it added, and to this there was only one solution: “The same court for everyone, which would be a revolution in our judicial customs.”
In India, the Hindu of Madras carried an editorial Wednesday about the rapid growth of crime in cyberspace. It said that India needed both changes in the law and advanced technological training for police operatives in order to combat the “nefarious activity of a well-educated and highly accomplished tribe which is making its debut in cyberspace.” The police, it added, must be kept “in pace with the galloping pace of high-tech in brilliantly planned and executed operations which could transform electronic gadgetry into burglar’s tools when the 20th century is in its last gasp.”