Iran welcomes old foes to Islamic summit
December 8, 1997
Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah (L) is greeted by Khatami
Web posted at: 1:54 p.m. EST (1854 GMT)
TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Former foes of Iran began arriving in Tehran on Monday for a three-day summit that could be called a "Who's Who" of the Islamic republic's new friends.
The meeting of the 55-member Organization of the Islamic Conference, which begins Tuesday, demonstrates a growing acceptance of Iran by its Arab neighbors, even as the United States tries to isolate the Tehran government.
Relations with those neighbors have been strained since the 1979 Islamic revolution, in which Muslim fundamentalists called for exporting Iran's militant brand of Islam.
But today, Iran is promoting itself as a land of peace and stability, trying to transform itself from pariah to regional power broker. Among Monday's arrivals:
- Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. It's the first visit by a high-ranking Saudi leader since the revolution. Iranian President Mohammad Khatami kissed Prince Abdullah on both cheeks in a traditional greeting and escorted him along a red carpet to a stand where the Saudi anthem was played.
- Kuwait's Emir, Sheik Jaber al-Ahmed Al-Sabah -- his first visit to Iran. Kuwait opposed Iran during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. Prior to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Kuwait was one of Iraq's biggest financial backers.
- Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan is the highest-ranking official from his country to visit to visit Tehran since the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
- PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, who Iran once accused of selling out the Palestinians in the Middle East peace process, got a warm welcome from Khatami.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat came to Tehran despite a tense relationship with the Iranian leader.
Iran's attitude toward its neighbors has become "much softer," says political analyst Sadegh Zibakalam. The increased friendliness from Tehran is also directed toward Jordan, Egypt and Turkey, important U.S. allies in the region who are also participating in the summit.
Their attendance is seen by some as a verdict on the American policy of trying to isolate Iran.
"We believe the policy of the United States to try to isolate Iran is unsound, unfounded and illogical, and maybe this summit is a small indication of that," says summit spokesman Javad Zarif.
Indeed, U.S. efforts look a little tired. Many of the nations attending the Islamic summit skipped a regional economic summit in Qatar three weeks ago -- in which the United States and Israel participated -- because of the faltering condition of the Middle East peace process.
In addition, European allies of the United States are ignoring pleas by Washington not to do business in Iran. Those allies are now gobbling up lucrative oil contracts
while a U.S. embargo leaves American companies empty-handed.
The Tehran government is not openly crowing, at least not officially. Instead, it is emphasizing the need for Islamic unity and a greater role for Iran in world affairs.
"We must have solidarity among ourselves, and a fresh outlook on the rest of the world, in order to play an important role in international affairs," says Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi.
Correspondent Christiane Amanpour contributed to this report.