Published August 22, 2006
WASHINGTON – Despite a diplomatic standoff over nuclear weapons and other difficult issues, a former Iranian president is making plans to speak next month at the Washington National Cathedral.
The former president, Mohammad Khatami, would be the most senior Iranian official to visit Washington since Islamic fundamentalists seized the U.S. Embassy in 1979 and held Americans there hostage for 444 days.
The Iranian Embassy in Washington closed in April 1980 and there have been no formal relations between the two countries since then, although U.S. and Iranian diplomats on some occasions have participated in multinational meetings, such as on Afghanistan.
Several former diplomats and members of Congress have been lobbying publicly for the Bush administration to deal directly with Iran on its nuclear program and other divisive issues.
A State Department official, who was not authorized to be identified by name, said applications for visas had been received from Khatami and several Iranians who would travel with him.
The applications are under review, the official said.
Meanwhile, Iran formally responded to a package of Western incentives aimed at persuading Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment, with officials saying Tuesday that they have offered a "new formula" to resolve the dispute.
Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, hand-delivered Iran's response to ambassadors from Britain, China, Russia, France, Germany and Switzerland, state-run television said, without disclosing details.
There was no immediate reaction from the Bush administration, where the proposal was under study.
At the Cathedral, the Rev. Canon John L. Peterson, director of its Center for Global Justice and Reconciliation, said U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan had invited Khatami to participate in a conference Sept. 5-6 to promote dialogue.
He said the church's center "thought it would be appropriate to invite the president to speak on the role that the three Abrahamic faiths can play in shaping peace."
"We have a special commitment to embracing the children of Abraham," he said, referring to Muslims, Christians and Jews.
"The church calls upon us to engage in reconciliation and understanding by having conversations with people with whom we might disagree," he said.
Evan Anderson, deputy director of the Center, said the former president was in Dubai preparing to apply for permission to visit the United States.
"Any headway that is to be made in U.S.-Iranian relations is very important," Anderson said. Religious groups should play a role in fostering dialogue with Iran, he said.
Khatami would speak at the Cathedral Sept. 7 on the role of Muslims, Christians and Jews in improving world understanding.