The Spanish press has already devoted several columns to Iranian President Mohammed Khatami's state visit to Madrid that begins Oct. 28. Unfortunately, most have focused on a flap over vino rather than Prime Minister José María Aznar's ambitious plans to host an international summit in 2003 to promote understanding between the Islamic world and the West.
According to El Mundo, President Khatami refused to attend a state banquet if alcohol was served, so rather than dine without wine, Spanish authorities canceled the gala dinner, and Spain's king and queen invited Khatami to a private booze-free meal instead. Similarly, a Rioja-fueled lunch with Aznar will probably become a breakfast meeting. Another protocol flap was avoided when several prominent women, including Queen Sofia and Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio, agreed not to attempt to shake hands with Khatami and his party.
An El Mundo op-ed complained that while it was reasonable for Khatami to refuse to imbibe, "it seems excessive that he would want to impose this prohibition on his hosts in their own home." The paper was particularly upset that the Iranians had been excused hand-shaking, "a minimum norm of courtesy." It concluded, "As much as the government doesn't want to offend the Iranian guests, neither must they insult the basic rules of our society. When Spaniards visit Tehran and when Iranians come to Spain, the burden of tolerance always seems to fall on the same side." ABC agreed, "The effort of adaptation that Westerners make when they visit the East isn't reciprocated when the journey is in the other direction."
La Razón pointed out that Khatami is forced to be so careful because "his conservative enemies in Tehran look for any excuse to attack the reformist leader." When he visited Italy in 1999, conservatives in Iran claimed that a photograph showing the president sitting next to the Italian president's daughter at a table equipped with wine glasses proved that Khatami was disobeying Islamic law on his trips abroad. Pravda reported, "Hundreds of photographs began to circulate in Teheran and his claim that he had not consumed alcohol did little to counter the gossip."