Sources: Iran looks to U.S. Jews for help


LOS ANGELES, Sept. 17 (JTA) — Some of the 10 Iranian Jews sentenced to jail terms for spying for Israel may be freed and others may have their sentences reduced, according to the Jewish community’s official representative in the Iranian Parliament.

Speaking in Persian to some 400 Iranian Americans in Los Angeles during Saturday morning services at the Eretz Cultural Center, Maurice Motamed said the trial had shattered the dignity and respect of Iran’s 25,000 Jews and had increased Jewish emigration from the Islamic Republic.

Motamed’s 10-day visit is part of Iran’s attempt to persuade the American government to lift economic sanctions against the Islamic country, particularly as regards Iran’s oil resources, sources told JTA.

Motamed said the lifting of such sanctions would benefit Iran, and by extension, the country’s Jewish community, these sources said, referring to private conversations they had with Motamed.

Tehran apparently believes 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. The broader community, in turn, would convince the White House and Congress.

While the scenario may appear simplistic and unrealistic, the Iranian government’s belief in unlimited Jewish clout in Washington may prove helpful to the Jewish community in Iran, one source commented.

A report that Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi will visit Los Angeles and meet privately in the coming days with local Jewish leaders in the Iranian-American community lends some credence to this understanding of Tehran’s intentions.

After services Saturday, several congregants said they doubted Motamed was able to speak freely about conditions in Iran.

During his visit, Motamed was reunited with his mother and four sisters, all of whom live in Los Angeles. He also met privately with leaders of the U.S. Iranian Jewish community.

Motamed, who painted a generally sympathetic picture of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami in his address Saturday, also said he had asked U.S. Jewish leaders in New York not to press Iran to divulge what happened to 11 Jewish teen-agers arrested some six years ago while trying to cross the border into Pakistan until the appeals in the “Iran 10” case are resolved.

The 10 were sentenced in July to terms of four to 13 years. Three other Jews were acquitted of the charges.

A judiciary panel hearing the appeals of the prisoners has delayed its decision, which was slated for early September.

Motamed, who chose his words carefully, seemed to assert the prisoners’ innocence.

“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,” said Motamed, a tall, elegant man of 55.

Jewish emigration is also being increased 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.

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 will eventually be restored.

Motamed also said he was trying to facilitate travel to Iran for Iranian Jews now living abroad, but the suggestion was received cooly by Pooya Dayanim, spokesman for the Council of Iranian American Jewish Organizations, which sponsored Motamed’s appearance at Saturday’s service.

“I do not think we should encourage travel as long as Iran opposes Israel and the Middle East peace process,” said Dayanim.

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