ANAHEIM — Hundreds of Iranian immigrants gathered Thursday outside the Anaheim Marriott hotel to protest an appearance by Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, the most senior figure of the Islamic regime permitted to visit California since the hostage crisis of 1980.
Hadi Nejad Hosseinian was invited to speak at a symposium of the World Affairs Council of Orange County. The forum addressed the possibility of resuming relations with Iran after almost 20 years of U.S. sanctions against the country, and Hosseinian's mere presence in Orange County enraged scores of Iranian residents. Some were forcibly evicted from the symposium.
"The United States is the only country that stands for freedom and democracy. They cannot resume a dialogue with Iran. They cannot support a terrorist government," said Jeff Taj of Santa Monica, who left Iran in 1978. Taj was among the protesters who waved flags, held banners and chanted.
Inside, hundreds of people underwent extensive security checks before packing into a ballroom for the ambassador's talk.
Hosseinian spoke tentatively of reconciliation.
"I hope this visit will result in a narrowing of the gap in understanding between these two nations," he said. "But Iran's foreign policy is guided by three principles: dignity, wisdom and our interests. Consideration of our dignity reigns supreme, and that is never to be compromised."
Sir Eldon Griffiths, president of the World Affairs Council, defended its decision to invite Hosseinian.
"The World Affairs Council has no political agenda," he said. "We are nonpartisan and funded through membership donations. We just try to bring government and business leaders together to discuss issues. We provide a platform, nothing more."
Hosseinian said that U.S. sanctions against Iran are not what prompted new President Mohammad Khatami to begin exploring the possibilities of resuming a dialogue.
"Our economy is functioning with minimal, if any, impact as a result of the American sanctions," he said. "Iran seeks peace and security at the international level, friendship and cooperation among all peoples and a dialogue among all cultures and civilizations."
The ambassador's speech was brief and his exit abrupt, which angered many people in the audience who wanted him to address more controversial issues.
"Let's talk about human rights!" shouted Sherry Lane, an opponent of Khatami's regime. Many people rose from their seats and began shouting, and several people were forcibly removed by security guards.
Outside, protesters vowed to stay through the evening until the conference's end.
"If the U.S. resumes relations, they will be dealing with murderers and maintaining terrorism," said Nader Omidvar of Laguna Beach.
Another protester said that although she now lives in Mission Viejo, she still fears the Islamic regime.
"I don't want to give you my name because I am still scared of them," she said. "They executed my husband in 1980, while I was pregnant with my daughter. I left Iran in 1982 because I wanted freedom and safety."