Former Iranian President Speaks

State Department producer Kirit Radia blogs about former Iranian president, Mohammad Khatami's, speech yesterday:

Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's speech to the National Cathedral last night didn’t discuss policy, but instead was a quiet discussion of the ideological differences between the East and West, and what each side could gain from dialogue with the other.

His reception inside the cathedral, however, was very different from the scene outside. (left: Khatami speaks at Washington National Cathedral yesterday).

The crowd inside remained silent throughout the speech, but outside protesters packed the sidewalk across the street shouting anti-Iran slogans and brandishing banners that read “No Dialogue, No War, Only Regime Changeâ€? and Down With Terrorists.â€? 

Khatami was greeted inside with polite introductory applause and at the end of his speech was thanked with applause that grew into a standing ovation from the 1,223 people in attendance -- a carefully selected crowd of the Washington diplomatic and think tank community. About 2,000 invitations were sent out, including to all members of Congress, although it was unclear which, if any of them, were in attendance.

Most of the loud crowd of protestors outside remained throughout the speech, under the careful watch of DC Metro Police, chanting "Freedom for Iran, Democracy for Iran." They greeted the audience as they departed the Cathedral with boos and jeers.

Most of the protesters were monarchists and carried the monarchic flag (the same as the current Iranian flag, but with a monarchic symbol in the center) and a photo of the exiled son of the Shah that was overthrown in the 1979 revolution, who is next in line for the throne.

There was a strong security presence for the event, with the State Department's Diplomatic Security coordinating with the Cathedral's own security team. In addition to the DC Metro Police’s street presence monitoring the protesters, they flew a helicopter around the area with its searchlight trained on the grounds of the Cathedral.

After Khatami spoke, Bishop John Bryson Chane addressed the crowd, defending the Cathedral's decision to invite Khatami from critics who said there was no place for such a polarizing secular debate in a sacred place of worship. He also, interestingly, thanked the State Department for allowing Khatami's visit to take place -- interesting because the State Department, beyond approving the visa and providing security, has tried to distance itself from the visit in public statements.

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