WASHINGTON – The head of the House Middle East subcommittee protested on Wednesday the Bush administration's decision to let former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami visit the United States for speeches and conferences.
"It is mystifying that we would roll out the red carpet to a person who has incited violence against civilians and who has expressed incendiary rhetoric against the United States and our allies," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.
In a statement, Ros-Lehtinen said she was circulating a letter among members of Congress that contended Khatami should be treated as a threat to U.S. national security interests and Middle East policy objectives.
Khatami, whose receipt of a visa was announced Tuesday at the State Department, plans to attend a U.N. conference Sept. 5-6 in New York to promote dialogue and to speak on religion's role in promoting peace at the Washington National Cathedral on Sept. 7.
Former President Carter is reported to be interested in meeting with Khatami, but his assistants declined to provide any information.
Khatami would be the most senior Iranian official to visit Washington since Islamic fundamentalists seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 during the Carter administration and held Americans hostage for 444 days.
The Iranian Embassy in Washington closed in April 1980. There have been no formal relations between the two countries since then, although U.S. and Iranian diplomats have participated in multinational meetings.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack reiterated on Wednesday there would be no meetings with U.S. officials.
"Nobody should take the fact that there was a decision to issue this visa that we have any illusions about the nature of the Iranian regime," McCormack said.
Declining to place Khatami along a political spectrum — some analysts consider him to be moderate in his views — McCormack said, "The fact of the matter is Iran is and was a state sponsor of terror."
And, he said, Iran "is now and was seeking nuclear weapons" in defiance of international obligations.
On Tuesday, Sen. Rich Santorum, R-Pa., said he was outraged that Khatami had received a visa. He called the former Iranian president "one of the chief propagandists of the Islamic Fascist regime."