While hundreds of protestors stood across the street chanting slogans, former Iranian President Sayed Mohammed Khatami delivered a speech aimed at promoting dialogue, tolerance, understanding and peace inside the Washington National Cathedral on September 7, 2006. Mr. Khatami is the most senior Iranian official to tour the US since 1979 Iran hostage crisis.
The event was sponsored by Center for Global Justice and Reconciliation at Washington National Cathedral. The Center's director, Canon John Peterson, said he hopes for greater dialogue between the Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. According to Peterson, "Even if a dialogue is not possible at this moment between our nations, certainly it is our hope that there would be more understanding between our faith communities.”
In his scholarly and theological speech, Mr. Khatami issued a call for leaders in both the West and the Islamic world to launch a historic dialogue. He said:
“For true inter-civilizational dialogue to materialize, the East should no longer be the 'object’ of understanding in the West…, but it must be recognized as a partner in dialogue and communication. The East, too, must differentiate between the political manifestations of the West such as colonialism and western rationale [and scientific thinking]; and while relying upon its distinguished moral heritage must prepare the psychological grounds for such a dialogue. Both sides must agree to fairly and impartially re-evaluate and critique modernism and tradition and open the path to a better tomorrow, and to rescue life from the claws of warmongers and violence-seekers and ostentatious leaders.”In a press conference at the National Cathedral prior to his speech, Mr. Khatami also said Iran is prepared to discuss the suspension – both the timing and the scope – of its uranium enrichment in negotiations. According to Mr. Khatami, "I believe the best recourse (is) to talk and negotiate over these issues. The use of force, and the threat of use of force, and language of threat has never produced a resolution to this conflict and (such) conflicts." He also said China, France and Russia are now willing to negotiate without preconditions.
Rev. John Bryson Chane, Bishop of Washington, concluded the evening by saying it is critical that politicians and religious leaders tone their rhetoric down and stop using words to denigrate and demonize other cultures. He said that the demonization of other cultures must be ended if real dialogue and engagement are to occur. Too often religion is used as a weapon of choice against other nations and cultures with whom we do not agree. Rev. Chane said that diplomacy and statesmanship alone can no longer resolve today’s problems and the three Abrahamic faiths have a great role to play in initiating dialogue and in the peace process.
Mr. Khatami served as President of Iran for two terms, from August 2, 1997 to August 2, 2005. He became known as Iran’s first reformist president, though he has received criticism for not doing enough. It was under Mr. Khatami’s administration that Iran sent the US a letter through Swiss diplomatic intermediaries offering a “grand bargain” which included overtures to engage in a broad dialogue with the US on full cooperation on nuclear programs, acceptance of Israel and the termination of Iranian support for Palestinian militant groups.