Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani must think he can get away with murder. And as long as the United States needs him as an ally against Iraq, he can. The Bush administration has been sending secret messages through intermediaries to Iran to mend fences. Those messages say nothing about continued human rights abuses in Iran and nothing about the assassination in Switzerland last year of Rafsanjani's chief critic on human rights issues -- Iranian exile Dr. Kazem Rajavi.

The silence in the White House about the April 24 murder of Rajavi speaks volumes in Tehran. The unspoken message is that President Bush is quite willing to overlook almost any Iranian atrocity, as long as it doesn't affect American citizens and as long as Iran is still making token efforts to free U.S. hostages being held by pro-Iranian terrorists in Lebanon.

There is a precedent for Bush's conduct. For two years before Iraq invaded Kuwait, the administration ignored human rights abuses by Iraq, hoping to make friends with Saddam Hussein. Saddam then felt free to assume that a little invasion would not come between friends.

Buddying up to Rafsanjani is just as stupid. He is an unrepentant terrorist and a murderer. The numbers of victims may be less than when the Ayatollah Khomeini was alive and hissing, but the intent is the same.

The Rajavi assassination is a perfect example. Last year we exposed the hand of Rafsanjani and the Iranian government in that assassination. Rajavi had lived in Switzerland for more than a decade and was the chief champion-in-exile of the imprisoned and tortured in Tehran. He tirelessly pleaded their cause before numerous international bodies. His brother heads the Iranian resistance group, the People's Mojahedin.

On April 24 Rajavi's car was blocked on the road near his home at Lake Geneva. Two assassins shot him at close range.

We investigated the murder with intelligence sources, law enforcement officials and the People's Mojahedin. And we met with Rajavi's widow and daughter. The result was a series of columns in which we implicated top Iranian diplomats and intelligence agents, all under the direction of Rafsanjani.

The Swiss police have since confirmed the bulk of our findings and have pinpointed 13 suspects. Among them is Hadi Nasabahadi, the Iranian ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. We reported that the government of Iran even provided the getaway plane -- the weekly Iran Air flight between Geneva and Tehran, which was held up for an hour until all the suspected conspirators were aboard.

Swiss police now say that the Rajavi assassination was "minutely planned" months in advance. Commando teams making early preparations spent time in Geneva in October of 1989 and then in late January and early February of 1990.

Rafsanjani has done nothing to explain away the damning evidence, and President Bush has not bothered to ask him for an explanation.

While Bush has been asleep at the switch, Congress has not. After our reports last spring, 162 members of Congress wrote to Rajavi's brother, the resistance leader Massoud Rajavi, to express "profound sympathies." In their letter they agreed that "decisiveness is required to confront Tehran's medieval dictatorship."

Then 32 senators wrote to the U.N. secretary general to protest the assassination, calling it the "most widely known case of illegal violence by the Iranian regime," as well as the "thousands of others {who} are also victims of its repression."

Meanwhile, George Bush is following the old Middle East adage that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Iran is nobody's friend, and it would be foolish for Bush to pretend otherwise.

1991, United Feature Syndicate Inc.