Iran General NewsBrumby snubs former Iran leader

Brumby snubs former Iran leader

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ImageThe Age: Premier John Brumby has snubbed former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami and will not meet him in Melbourne next week.

The Age

Barney Zwartz

ImagePREMIER John Brumby has snubbed former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami and will not meet him in Melbourne next week.

The Premier's advisers recommended that Mr Brumby meet Mr Khatami, who will be giving a public lecture next Thursday at La Trobe University, but his department confirmed yesterday the meeting would not go ahead.

Spokeswoman Jessica Harris said in a one-paragraph statement: "The Premier's Department recommended the Premier meet in response to an invitation from Professor Joseph Camilleri (director of La Trobe's Centre for Dialogue). Upon further consideration, the Premier does not intend to meet with Mr Khatami."

The Age yesterday revealed that the Jewish Community Council of Victoria had asked Melbourne Anglican Archbishop Philip Freier not to host a private interfaith function for Mr Khatami on the grounds that he was a sponsor of terrorism and led a country that constantly threatened to destroy Israel.

Council president John Searle yesterday said the Jewish community had made no representations at all to Mr Brumby but "we are not surprised at his decision. We had reservations, and it's conceivable that he shares our reservations."

Mr Khatami is being brought to Australia by La Trobe University's Centre for Dialogue and the Australian National University in Canberra to deliver two public lectures. His Canberra itinerary is not yet finalised, though he will not meet Prime Minister Kevin Rudd or Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, as both will be overseas.

Professor Amin Saikal, director of the ANU's Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, said he had asked the Foreign Affairs Department for ministerial meetings, and hoped there would be an interfaith function.

"What has been said about this person is appalling," Professor Saikal said.

Also yesterday, Victorian Liberal Senator Judith Troeth seconded the Jewish council's call to Dr Freier to reconsider his function, and a gay activist group sought an invitation so they could plead for homosexuals in Iran.

Senator Troeth said Mr Khatami had made "inflammatory and racist" remarks about Israel. "He may be regarded as a reformer in comparison to other leaders in Iran, but that does not excuse the repression that occurred during his term, nor his belligerence since he left office," said Senator Troeth.

Dr Freier said he was puzzled by Senator Troeth's comments and that she "should be telling the immigration minister not to give him a visa".

He said he had invited 26 people to the meeting, including Christian, Jewish and Baha'i leaders, whose communities have been persecuted in Iran.

He said nothing so far had inclined him to reconsider hosting the function. His own research into Mr Khatami showed the former president was internationally regarded for his ideas on the dialogue of civilisations, he had denounced terrorism and was not a Holocaust-denier. Mr Khatami, president of Iran from 1997 to 2005, was regarded as a reformist president.

Melbourne Muslim commentator Waleed Aly said yesterday critics were conflating concerns about Iran with concerns about Mr Khatami, who was a champion of reform though hamstrung by the Iranian political apparatus. Persecution in Iran was largely systemic and not the result of Mr Khatami's policies, he said.

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