- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 17, 2000

Mandela honor delayed

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) has called off a lunch that was scheduled for Friday to honor Nelson Mandela, who angered some Jews with recent remarks about the ongoing trial in Iran of 13 Jews accused of spying for Israel.

Committee representatives yesterday declined to link the postponement of the lunch, where the former South African president was to have received the organization's highest award, with his May 1 statement in which he insisted the 13 defendants will receive a fair trial in Iran.

Israel, the United States and the AJC have condemned the arrests and called for the release of the 13 defendants, of whom six have so far pleaded guilty. There are suspicions that the guilty pleas have been coerced. Iran imposes the death penalty for spies.

Mr. Mandela, who is on a private Washington visit, could not be reached for comment.

Asked if Mr. Mandela's statement was the reason for the postponement of the luncheon, AJC Washington director Jason Isaacson said, "We're hoping to reschedule it. I will leave it at that."

Some luncheon guests were informed yesterday by e-mail of the cancellation of Friday's function at the Mayflower Hotel.

Mr. Mandela's statement, issued in South Africa on the day the trial began in Iran, also called on foreign governments to avoid criticizing the Iranian courts.

"From all observations, it would seem that the trial is fair and just," Mr. Mandela said. "The trial is a purely domestic matter in which citizens of the Islamic republic are being tried. Foreigners should avoid any action that may be regarded rightly or wrongly as interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state."

The AJC on its Web site denounces the arrests and the trails, saying the Jews were apprehended simply for teaching Hebrew and holding religious classes.

"According to international legal norms, they should never have been deprived of their freedom and should be released," the AJC says.

On a visit to Israel in October, Mr. Mandela angered Israeli officials when he asserted that the Iranian Jews would receive a fair trial. Mr. Mandela, who had visited Iran, said he has received assurances from Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini and President Mohammed Khatami.

Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy publicly rebuked Mr. Mandela in a press conference and denounced the statements of the Iranian leaders.

Mr. Levy told Mr. Mandela, who was imprisoned in South Africa for 27 years, that he had better lawyers than the Iranian Jews.

"If you had had to rely on such lawyers during your captivity," he said, "it is doubtful whether your people would have seen the dramatic change they did or perhaps whether you would be here today."

Burmese democracy

Washington yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of aborted elections in Burma by endorsing the struggle for democracy in the south Asian state, dominated by military rulers for half a century.

In an impassioned message of support for the country's democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said, "Today we renew our appeal to the authorities in Rangoon to abide by the democratic wishes of their people."

Mrs. Suu Kyi, the recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize, heads the National League for Democracy, which won 392 of the 485 seats contested in the 1990 election.

But Burma's military rulers, who had been pressured to make reforms by mass public demonstrations that they broke up by shooting hundreds of protesters, annulled the vote and retained power.

"We renew our commitment to Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy. As long as you struggle, we will do all we can to assist. And we know that you will not stop struggling until you prevail," Mrs. Albright said.

She was speaking at an event held by the National Endowment for Democracy to mark the anniversary of the election, held May 27, 1990, and to hear a videotaped message from Mrs. Suu Kyi, who said, "We are not going to give up our struggle."

Mrs. Suu Kyi thanked the United States and other countries for "supporting us in our endeavor to have the results of the 1990 elections recognized at this time, when the military regime are trying hard to pretend that the results of the elections are no longer valid."

Mrs. Albright wore a white beaded necklace she said was given to her by the slight but steely freedom fighter during a visit to Burma in 1995, when Mrs. Albright was serving as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Divided too long

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright called for the reunification of Cyprus and reconciliation between Greece and Turkey, as she hosted a dinner to honor the Greek Orthodox representative in the United States.

She described Archbishop Demetrios as a "world-renowned scholar" and "world-class pastor of patience, strength and love."

"We know that one key to the future is reconciliation among those who live around the Aegean Sea," Mrs. Albright said at the dinner last week.

"In the past year, the Greek and Turkish peoples have been brought closer together by the shared tragedies of earthquakes and the joint heroism of earthquake response," she said.

Mrs. Albright said the United States is committed to help reunite Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots.

"Cyprus has been divided far too long," she said. "The status quo is unacceptable."

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