Middle East


Furor over Speech

President Khatami called Bush's speech "insulting" (Photo: AFP).

President Bush’s State of the Union address, in which he declared that Iran, North Korea, and Iraq form an “axis of evil,” was condemned by all factions of the Iranian political spectrum. A great number of reformists believe that his comments could set back the pace of reforms in the country.

For days prior to the speech, the confrontation between Iranian reformists and hard-liners had reached new heights over issues such as financial corruption, arrest of pro-reform activists, and expulsion of hard-line Afghan groups, which oppose Hamid Karzai’s interim government in Afghanistan.

It seemed that the reformists were winning a few battles in their war against conservatives, who control the army and judiciary. But after Bush’s speech, Iran-U.S. relations became the main topic of political discussions in Iran, and various groups in the country became united against what [President Mohammad] Khatami called “an insult against all Iranians.”
The reformist press printed a series of articles citing Israeli pressure as the main reason for Bush’s new approach to Iran.

A day after the speech, on Jan. 30, the organ of the main reformist party—Participation Front—Nowruz (New Day), quoted Khatami: “The American nation should ask its politicians to stop waging wars and use their immense possibilities to have a just peace in the world.”

The main hard-liners’ mouthpiece Kayhan (Universe) (Feb. 4) quoted Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei saying that “the Iranian nation will have a harsh response for the United States.” Kayhan’s ultra-hard-line editor, Hossein Shariatmadari, agreed with the reformists that Bush’s comments were made “under the pressure of Zionists,” and he added (Jan. 31) that “the United States wants to wage war and get out of the economic crisis which is engulfing [it] now.”

Within a few days after Bush’s speech, it was obvious that the Iranian conservatives had managed to consolidate their forces and had used the opportunity to portray the reformists as America’s fifth column in Iran.

In his editorial in Kayhan (Feb. 4), Shariatmadari snapped that “Americans regard the obligatory veil for women, the execution of drug dealers, and forbidding alcohol...as human-rights violations. If you (reformists) don’t believe in the basic values of the Islamic Republic, what is the difference between you and the Americans?” In addition, Kayhan featured many anti-American headlines, including a call to Iranians to show force on the 23rd anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution (Feb. 11). “Iran will have a harsh response for the United States,” the paper warned (Feb. 9).