A celebration scheduled for this weekend at Montgomery County's new hotel and conference center, marking the 26th anniversary of the Islamic revolution in Iran, was canceled after the hotel's operator learned that it would violate federal law.
The Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, which opened in December, was to play host to 1,000 guests at a reception thrown by Ali Jazini, director of the Interests Section of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
John Wolf, a Marriott spokesman, said yesterday that the hotel canceled the event after realizing it is illegal to do business with Iran. He said Marriott officials will "be taking steps" to prevent similar bookings in the future.
Announcement of the event raised an outcry from Iranian opponents of the country's regime who live in the United States. They organized a campaign calling on Marriott to cancel.
"For them to come celebrate the anniversary of their glorious revolution in the United States is just wrong," said Iman Foroutan, director of the Iran of Tomorrow Movement, an American-based organization working to oust Iran's fundamentalist regime. "If they allowed this, I would not be surprised if al Qaeda celebrated their next anniversary in the heart of New York."
In a letter sent this week to Marriott officials and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, Foroutan cited an order from then-President Bill Clinton designating Iran as "an extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy and economy" of the United States. The letter went on to say that it is illegal for Iran to do business within the borders of the United States.
Foroutan, whose Los Angeles-based group operates a satellite television station, said Iranian dissidents were planning to picket outside the conference center.
Feb. 11 is an Iranian holiday marking the fall of the government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979. In November of that year, militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking hostages and triggering a 444-day crisis for President Jimmy Carter, during which he severed diplomatic ties with Iran. The ordeal ended when President Ronald Reagan took office in January 1981.
In his State of the Union address Wednesday, President Bush said Iran "remains the world's primary state sponsor of terror -- pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve."
Iran maintains a presence in the United States by operating an office from the Pakistani Embassy. Calls to the Iranian Interest Section were not returned yesterday.
The $80 million Marriott conference center is a signature initiative of Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D), designed as a place where civic organizations and businesses can meet.
Although $40 million in state and county money was used to construct it, Marriott books all the events, said David Weaver, a Duncan spokesman.
"We are not in the booking business," Weaver said.