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Iran Regime Appears Bent on Deliberately Cutting Itself Off From Western Nations

Times Staff Writer

Iran continues to deliberately cut itself off from Western nations as a result of the furor over Salman Rushdie’s controversial novel, “The Satanic Verses,” Middle East analysts said Saturday.

And the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s supreme leader and spiritual guide, will continue to press for the imposition of his religious views on the Muslim world at a high-level Islamic meeting in Saudi Arabia this week, according to specialists here.

In Tehran, the hard-line newspaper Kayhan International said Saturday that the nation’s move toward reconciliation with the West after last August’s cease-fire in the Iran-Iraq War was “a very hasty and ill-planned strategy.”

The newspaper, which currently reflects the tough Khomeini views, declared that rapprochement between Iran and the West was “a doomed effort.”

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Western government support for the free-speech rights of Rushdie, whose book offended most followers of Islam and infuriated Muslim fundamentalists, showed that the attempt to better relations with West has been a failure, Kayhan said.

“Iran is painting itself into a difficult diplomatic corner,” observed one Middle Eastern specialist here. “This anti-Western behavior may delay indefinitely the country’s economic recovery from the effects of the (Persian) Gulf War.”

45-Nation Conference

Kayhan’s negative view of Iranian ties with the West came on the eve of a four-day, 45-nation meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Riyadh, the Saudi Arabian capital, which formally begins Monday.

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Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati is expected to seek the meeting’s condemnation of the West for publishing the book as well as its support for Khomeini’s call that Rushdie be killed for having written it.

But the ayatollah’s extremist views--and his yearning to become the leader of all Islam--are expected to be resisted by Sunni Muslim leaders of nations rejecting Iran’s brand of ultraconservative Islam.

While other Islamic countries have condemned “The Satanic Verses"--which pokes fun at the Prophet Mohammed, his wives and the writing of the Koran, the Muslim holy book--they have not endorsed Khomeini’s call for Rushdie’s death.

Further, many Muslim countries believe that it would be nonsense to cut off ties with major Western economic powers merely because of a privately written book, no matter how offensive.

Iran broke diplomatic ties with Britain on March 7 because of London’s refusal to ban the novel by Rushdie, a British citizen who was born a Muslim in Bombay, India.

Iran is also threatening to sever relations with West Germany, which is Tehran’s largest non-oil trading partner.

West German politicians have called for economic sanctions against Iran unless Khomeini rescinds his clerics’ offer of a $5.2-million “bounty” for anyone who kills Rushdie.

Bonn has stopped talks on a $1.7-billion-$2.7-billion loan to Iran because of Iran’s actions over “The Satanic Verses.”

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“It is absolutely stupid for Iran to impair relations with West Germany, with which it had good relations,” one analyst here said.

“They are shooting themselves in the foot if they go through with this threat. It is all simply to bolster the old ayatollah’s dreams of Islamic glory and leadership.”

Iran has threatened to break ties with the rest of the European Community, as well as with Canada, Sweden and Norway, all of which withdrew their ambassadors to Tehran after Khomeini’s threat against Rushdie.

The Kayhan daily, Iran’s largest newspaper, admitted Saturday that the breakdown of relations with European countries will harm Iran. But it argued that a rupture “will also give our policy-makers a new opportunity to re-evaluate and weigh their practical actions.”

“Iran is determined to safeguard its Islamic values even if it means a new round of political confrontation with anti-Islamic forces,” the paper said.

“With all these realities and the West’s unlimited support for the Iraqi regime in the (Iran-Iraq) war, the Islamic Republic is not in a position to afford the luxury of friendly relations with the West.”

However, Middle East experts declared that the contrary is true: After its defeat in the Persian Gulf War, Iran is in no position to scorn the benefits of good ties with the West.

But Khomeini is determined not only to shore up his position inside Iran, diplomatic analysts say, but to become the recognized leader of the entire Islamic world--and he sees the Rushdie affair as the opportunity to project himself as such.

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However, the Shiite branch of Islam, of which Khomeini is leader, makes up only 10% of the estimated 1 billion Muslims who are concentrated in a wide swath of nations stretching from Morocco to Indonesia.

And many Muslim nations--Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey and Malaysia, among others--are far more secular in political outlook than the conservative Persian Gulf nations, with their fundamentalist Sunni and Shiite populations.

So these countries are expected to resist Iran’s demands at the Riyadh conference to further politicize the Rushdie issue.

These leaders, diplomats say, believe that Khomeini wants to advance himself as the leader of the Islamic world as a way of strengthening his position in Iran.

As Ahmed Abdel Ghani, managing editor of Bahrain’s Akbar al Khaleej newspaper, put it: “Rushdie’s book is rubbish. As such, the book does not justify the cantankerous uproar in Tehran.

“But the Iranians obviously are out for political auctioneering and brinkmanship. The Iranians hope to become leaders of the world’s Muslims and force the West to back down on the Rushdie issue.”

In Iran on Saturday, another newspaper, the Tehran Times, urged the West to consider a compromise proposal made Friday by Parliament Speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani that the Rushdie crisis could “be solved if Western nations burned all copies of ‘The Satanic Verses.’

“The West and supporters of the book should consider Mr. Rafsanjani’s words carefully, coolly and objectively,” said the paper.

But it added that Khomeini’s death threat “will remain valid while its cause exists.”


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