Freeing the Jews in Iran

Wooing Iran away from the militant excesses of its 20-year-old Islamic revolution was never going to be easy.

But just when the West, mainly Europe, has begun to embrace this strategic Middle Eastern nation as a way to encourage reformers there, the big flirtation has run into a big chill.

The West is faced with a difficult decision over how much to protest the arrest of 13 Iranian Jews on charges of spying for Israel.

The strong suspicion is that hard-line opponents of the reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, made the bogus arrests a few months ago just to thwart his attempt to court foreign investment and win more popularity points among young Iranians.

Should Europe now cool its budding business ties with Iran to save the 13 Jews, even if it hurts the cause of reform? One answer to this unfortunate pawn game may come this week during Mr. Khatami's visit to France. To free the 13 Jews - members of a large Jewish community in Iran - the French and their European partners need careful diplomacy that doesn't undercut Khatami but rather bolsters him in an ongoing power struggle with conservative clerics.

A year ago, he was able to "disaasociate" his government from the fatwa (religious order) that called for the killing of author Salman Rushdie. Let's hope Europe can help him remove this case from a courtship that the Middle East needs.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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