WHEN "condemned" writer Salman Rushdie was invited Thursday to
his first meeting inside the British Foreign Office, diplomats in
Tehran immediately began considering what lay behind Britain's move.
Some Western diplomats interviewed here say the British
government is setting up a diplomatic confrontation to force Iran
to alter its stance on a range of international issues. These
include Iran's opposition to the peace negotiations between Israel
and its Arab neighbors as well as the decree by the late Ayatollah
Ruhollah Khomeini that sentenced Mr. Rushdie to death for his book,
"The Satanic Verses."
According to these diplomats, the timing of the offensive may be
linked to the fact that several foreign observers here say the
Iranian government, for economic reasons, is in its weakest
position in years. Iranian officials say they do not need Western
financial help or a rescheduling of the $6 billion foreign debt,
but they do need to expand trade with the West. And they need
guarantees from Western nations that trade agreements will be
The leadership here is caught between a population that is
demanding an increase in its standard of living and a currency
shortage that does not leave much room for maneuver.
The Iranians also say their difficulties are partly caused by
Western pressure. A source close to President Hashemi Rafsanjani,
who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, "The currency shortage
we're in is the consequence of pressures applied by the US
government, or its allies, mainly Japan.
"Japan, like several other countries, would pay for their
purchases of oil several months in advance. At the request of the
US government, Japan canceled this agreement in August last year
and decided that it would pay for its oil at the time of delivery.
That's why we had a gap in our income of currencies," the source
says. "Some European countries believe in the present circumstances
they can extort political concessions from us, but they're wrong."
Western nations, particularly in the European Community, have
long insisted that Iran drop Rushdie's death sentence. The Iranians
also pose an obstacle to the US-led Middle East peace process,
since Iran opposes any talks between the Israelis, whose nation
they refuse to recognize, and its Arab neighbors. Iran has also
supported the militant Palestinian group Hamas, a strong opponent
of the peace process.
Diplomats here say the West hopes to moderate Iran's position on
the peace process in exchange for a broadening of trade relations.
At the same time, the pressures coming from the Iranian
population itself are strong. …