No one can doubt the reverence, even idolatry that millions
of Iranians still feel towards the revolutionary leader
who dethroned the last of the shahs.
— Orange County Register
Following up the suggestion that I should pay another visit to revolutionary Iran, this time wearing my World Affairs Councils hat, I sought advice from U.S. and British officials, think tanks in Washington, London and Paris, and from Iranian exiles who had visited their country since Ayatollah Khatami had won election as president. Opinion as always was mixed. Optimists pointed out that Khatami had curbed the excesses of the regime’s religious police and promised action to relieve poverty and unemployment. His approach to the West was said to be “moderate.” Pessimists scoffed at this. Khatami in their eyes, was the “smile on the face of the tiger.” The regime remained a theocratic tyranny dedicated to the export of Islamic fundamentalism.
Confused by both but convinced by neither of these assessments, I flew to London in May 1998 and caught an Iran Air flight to Teheran on one of the short-bodied 747s the Shah had purchased from Boeing. My fellow passengers included a large number of smartly-dressed Iranian women who before boarding went into the restrooms, removed their lipstick, mascara and jewelry, and reappeared as plain-Janes wearing veils. Iran Air now belonged to the mullahs!
Joining me in Teheran were two other leaders of the World Affairs Councils of America, Dr. Jerry Leach, the national president, a former NSC staff member, and James Nathan, Ph.D., author of a treatise on