Iran will not be welcome back into the community of nations so long as it places an assassination contract on the head of a British citizen in Britain. This heinous act casts doubt on Iran's readiness to live by international rules, including respect for the sovereignty of other nations.
Iran's Chief Justice Morteza Moqtadaei reiterated the 1989 death decree by the late spiritual leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, on the Indian-born, lapsed-Muslim, British author, Salman Rushdie, as the duty of every Muslim to carry out. An Iranian "charity" has an outstanding offer of $2 million to the murderer.
Iran has every right to find blasphemy in Mr. Rushdie's novel, "The Satanic Verses." It could even put him on trial if he ventures on its soil. But it has no right to commission his murder in another country, or anarchy would prevail worldwide.
This new crisis in Iranian-Western relations comes as Iran is reviving economically and militarily with Western help. Its oil industry has recovered from the war with Iraq. American companies, without violating U.S. sanctions, are again buying Iranian oil for refining and sale in Europe. Japan has begun making loans to Iran for the first time in 17 years, and Iran received $2.2 billion in credits from Western banks in the second half of 1991.
Despite the obvious risks, Iran is again able to acquire from abroad weaponry and dual-use technology with military value. It has ordered subs from Russia and nuclear power plants from Russia and China. India wants to sell it rail electrification and power plants. Belatedly, the Bush administration has mounted a diplomatic effort to shut down nuclear, biological and missile weaponry sales to Iran.
Iran is capitalizing on Iraq's distress to reassert its paramount power in the Persian Gulf. It has restated an old unilateral claim to a gulf island, Abu Musa, currently shared with the United Arab Emirates. It is cultivating former Soviet republics and offering help to Muslims in Yugoslavia.
The U.S., which supported Iranian dreams of grandeur under the shah, need not oppose Iranian ambitions per se. But Iran must respect the rules of international life. So long as it does not, vigilance against its ambition is required.