Short an invitation from Iran’s supreme leader, State Senator Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, says he’ll probably steer clear of Iran.
A member of the Iranian Parliament announced that Dabakis was under surveillance during a recent visit to the Middle Eastern country. In August, Dabakis had returned to Iran to meet with officials he first encountered on a vacation four or five years ago. Conversations were the beginning stages of a “people-to-people exchange” program, meant to mend relationships between the two countries. He visited, he says, as a private citizen, not a state representative.
“If Utahns have meals in the homes of Iranian people, visit the mosques, you begin to build this understanding, if not trust,” he says. “Those are the first steps toward building a stable basis.” It was a ping-pong team, Dabakis points out, that first forged relationships between the U.S. and China.
Last spring, those contacts Dabakis encountered during his first travels invited him back to Iran. For possible safety concerns, Dabakis is choosing not to identify the officials or their specific titles. He and his husband stayed in Tehran for a couple of weeks.
“When we left Iran and went to Dubai, there was a story in the front page of the Tehran newspaper about an American senator sneaking into the country,” Dabakis says. He doesn’t know how the government spied on him or to what extent.
Dabakis, a gay man, says he doesn’t believe his sexuality played any part in the Iranian government’s interest in following him, a supposition that he’s only seen in the American press. His attempt to create goodwill between the often hostile nations played a much larger role, he says.
“I think perhaps I stepped into some internal Iranian situation with a faction that wants closer relationships with the United States and a faction that does not,” he says.
Dabakis doesn’t plan on returning.