September 21, 2000
Message of Hope
Iranian minister optimistic about 'Shiraz 10' during visit to Reseda congregation.
Prospects are favorable that some of the prison senten-ces imposed on 10 Iranian Jews charged with spying for Israel will be reduced and that others will be set free, according to the Jewish community's official representative in the Iranian parliament.
Maurice Motamed predicted that appeals of the initial verdicts, which imposed prison sentences of up to 13 years, will be generally successful. Reuters reported that the jury panel hearing the appeals of the 'Shiraz 10' were to announce their decisions on Wednesday or Thursday.
Motamed addressed some 400 Iranian Americans at the Eretz Cultural Center in Reseda during Saturday morning services. In careful words, he weighed the disabilities imposed on Jews in Iran against hope for a better future and painted a generally sympathetic picture of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.
Speaking in Farsi, Motamed, a tall, elegant man of 55 years, described the spy trial as a catastrophe that had shattered the dignity and respect of the 25,000-strong Jewish community in Iran.
"In our presence of 2,700 years in Iran, Jews have never betrayed Iran, and our roots are so deep that they cannot be cut off," he said.
Jewish emigration from Iran has been accelerated by the spy trial, as well as by the government's refusal to employ Jews and other religious minorities, Motamed said.
Motamed himself continues to work for the government as a civil engineer and urban planner, "but not everyone is as lucky as I am," he said.
A second emotional case revolves around 11 Jewish teenage boys, who were arrested six years ago while trying to cross the border into Pakistan.
Quiet efforts are underway to determine their fate, but Motamed said that he had asked Jewish officials in New York not to agitate on this case until the appeals to the spy charge verdicts are resolved.
After meeting with Khatami, the Jewish community in Iran has been successful in regaining controls over Jewish schools, Motamed said, and there are hopes that property confiscated from the Jewish community and individuals eventually will be restored.
Motamed also said he was trying to facilitate travel to Iran for Iranian Jews now living abroad, but the suggestion was received coolly by Pooya Dayanim, spokesman for the Council of Iranian-American Jewish Organizations, which sponsored Motamed's appearance at the Saturday service.
"I do not think we should encourage travel as long as Iran opposes Israel and the Middle East peace process," he said.
After services, various congregants commented that they found Motamed personable and even "cool," while acknowledging that he represented the Iranian Jewish community effectively, they doubted that he was able to express himself freely about conditions in Iran.
During his 10-day visit, Motamed was reunited with his mother and four sisters, who live in Los Angeles, and also met with leaders of the Iranian American Jewish Federation.
From private conversations between Motamed and various sources, it appeared clear that a major objective of his visit was to find ways to persuade the American government to lift the remaining economic sanctions against Iran, particularly in the development of the country's oil resources.
The lifting of such sanctions would benefit Iran and by exten-sion the Jewish community, Motamed indicated.
Tehran's reasoning goes that if the Iranian Jewish community could be persuaded to lobby for the lifting of sanctions, it would persuade the general American Jewish community to do likewise, which in turn would persuade the White House and Congress.
While the scenario may appear simplistic and unrealis-tic, the Iranian government's belief that Jews have unlimited clout in Washington may prove helpful to the Jewish community in Iran, one source commented.Lending some credence to Tehran's perceptions is the report that Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi is to visit Los Angeles and was expected to meet privately on Thursday with local Jewish leaders in the Iranian-American community.
One such leader said that he hoped to raise issues beyond the imprisonment of the 10 Jews to general concerns, such as Iran's support of terrorism and its opposition to the Middle East peace process.Motamed declined requests for press interviews during his Los Angeles visit, indicating that he did not want to say anything that might adversely affect the current appeals of the 10 imprisoned Jews.