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Iran News

January 1998, Week 2

FarsiNet FarsiNews

U.S. to Review Visa Restrictions Jan 11
White House to Mull Clinton Speech to Iran-Aide Jan 11
Iran Buying 27 New Ships Worth $700-800 Million Jan 10
Mixed Reactions to KHATAMI'S Message Jan 10
Despite President's Overture,Cleric Lashes out at US Jan 9
Cleric hits West media on Khatami reporting Jan 9
U.S. Congressman Hopes to Visit Iran Jan 9
U.S. Looking for Deeds From Iran Jan 8
USA: Dialogue with Iran Held only at Official Level Jan 8
Former hostages back closer U.S.-Iranian ties Jan 8
Iranians React Cautiously to Khatami's Offer Jan 8
U.S. to Look at Boosting Cultural Ties with Iran Jan 8

 

U.S. to Review Visa Restrictions
By Jim Abrams
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States will review its current tough visa restrictions on Iranians as one means of encouraging rapprochement with the Tehran government, U.S. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger said Sunday.

At the same time, Berger said statements of good will toward Americans made by Iran's new, relatively moderate, president have yet to translate into real changes in the country's policies, Berger said on CNN's ``Late Edition.''

Serious impediments remain to relations, he said, including Iran's ``support for terrorism, violent opposition to the Middle East peace process, development of weapons of mass destruction.''

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, in an interview with CNN last week, set a new tone in Iran's stance toward the United States by praising Americans and condemning all kinds of terrorism against innocent people.

The Clinton administration quickly responded by calling for a direct dialogue between the two governments, an idea still opposed by many Iranian hard-liners.

In addition to official dialogue, Berger said, the State Department is reviewing ``the question of whether or not a greater exchange of private sector people would be useful. That is something we will look at, yes.'' The United States has no official relations with Iran and normally does not grant visas for cultural, political or business exchanges.

Berger commented that as Khatami and his allies replace the hard-line leaders who have controlled Iran, ``there is obviously a contested vision of the future of Iran.''

He said that since Khatami assumed power last August, ``there has been more change, I think, in Iran's internal behavior, degree of tolerance internally,'' than in its external policies.

White House to Mull Clinton Speech to Iran-Aide
WASHINGTON, (Reuters) - The White House opened the possibility on Sunday that President Bill Clinton might respond in kind to an extraordinary Iranian overture televised last week.

Clinton's top national security adviser, Samuel Berger, also termed government-to-government talks the only way to end two decades of poisoned U.S.-Iranian relations.

Berger, on the CNN program ``Late Edition,'' hailed the ``new tone'' from President Mohammad Khatami, who called last week for wide-ranging unofficial exchanges to break down the ``bulky wall of mistrust between us and the U.S. administration.''

In a watershed 45-minute interview with CNN aired on Wednesday, Khatami called for relations built on ``mutual respect'' and voiced regret for the 1979 hostage-taking at the U.S. embassy that consolidated Iran's Islamic revolution.

On Sunday, a CNN correspondent told Berger that an Iranian newspaper had urged Clinton to speak to the Iranian people in a similar format.

``I haven't seen this proposal,'' Berger replied, adding: ``We'd certainly take a look at it.'' But he said Clinton already spoke frequently to the Iranian people through the international media.

Berger said the Clinton administration would consider ways of promoting private sector exchanges in keeping with Khatami's suggestion, including the possible easing of visa restrictions for Iranians.

But he said the Clinton administration had detected no ``significant change'' in Iran's alleged state support for guerrillas engaged in violence against Israel and the West since Khatami, a relative moderate, was elected president in May.

``We would like to have a new relationship, a better relationship, with Iran,'' Berger said.

He said the impediments were Iran's alleged state support for terrorist violence, its alleged pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and its violent opposition to the U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace process.

``That's why we believe that in addition to this dialogue between our peoples, that we ought to have a direct conversation, a direct dialogue, with the government of Iran,'' Berger said.

``That's how we will move this relationship to a different place,'' he added.

Berger said the Clinton administration was ready to discuss the status of Iranian assets frozen after the embassy hostage-taking as long as the issues the United States wants to discuss were also on the table.

Iran Buying 27 New Ships Worth $700-800 Million
TEHRAN, (Reuters) - Iran is buying 27 new multi-purpose, container and passenger ships worth $700-800 million from countries including China and South Korea, the head of Iran's shipping company said on Saturday.

``Contracts have been concluded with a South Korean company for the purchase of six 22,000-tonne multi-purpose ships,'' the official news agency IRNA quoted managing director Ahmad Mohammadi as saying.

The first of the vessels will be delivered in June. ``Five more 22,000-tonne multi-purpose ships would be purchased from China, with the first one being delivered in January, 1999,'' the agency quoted him as saying.

Mohammadi said contracts would soon been signed with the Persian Gulf Ship Building Company for the manufacture of six 22,000-tonne ships.

Four additional 73,000-tonne cargo ships would be purchased from South Korea and four 22,000-tonne container ships from Croatia, he said.

He did not say where Iran would obtain the remaining two ships.

Mohammadi said Iran owned 110 ships, 76 of them ocean-going. He said 22 million tonnes of cargo were transported to Iran last year, 15 million tonnes of which was on Iranian ships.

He said Iran had 44 ageing, ocean-going ships which should be replaced.

Mixed Reactions to KHATAMI'S Message to American
TEHRAN- XINHUA - Iranian mass media today cast mixed reactions toward the first address by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami to the American people.

Khatami's statement of no need for diplomatic ties with the United States is praised while his regret over the issue of American hostages is blamed.

Local newspaper Iran News said today that Khatami proved he had nothing new to say on the issue of establishing relations with the U.S., although the Western media said Khatami's statement was a sign of Iran's willingness to establish ties with the U.S..

In his speech to the American people Thursday, Khatami said that "we feel no need for ties with the U.S." in a diverse and plural modern world. He called for cultural dialogue instead of political dialogue.

"Even if Khatami has any penchant for establishment of relations with U.S. Administration, he will not, logically, accept such a high risk without obtaining any political concessions from the U.S. in advance," said the newspaper.

At present, anyone who takes the first step to establish ties with the U.S. without obtaining concessions from Washington would be committing political suicide, it noted.

Confirming some positive points in Khatami's message, the daily Jomhuri Elslami (Islamic Republic) expressed dissatisfaction with his regret over the issue of American hostages captured by Iranian students in 1979 following the occupation of the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

For the first time in Iran, Khatami expressed his regret over the hostage issue, saying that it was an incident occurred at the days full of revolutionary fervor.

The daily also expressed dissatisfaction with Khatami's remarks on the slogan "Death with the U.S.." Khatami stressed that the slogan was not aimed at hurting the American people but opposing the hostile policy of the U.S. administration against Iran.

His remarks also aroused a sharp attack from the evening daily Kayhan, which said that the Iranian president should let the American people know the crimes committed by their government against the Iranian people.

Observers here noted the mixed reactions to Khatami's message indicated that there were still many hurdles on the way for the two governments to open dialogue, particularly the strong opposition inside the two countries against a possible Tehran-Washington rapprochement.

"For normalcy to replace hostility, and suspicion to be replaced by trust in American-Iranian ties, there is a long way to go," Iran Daily said today, adding that the issue is a complex bond of principles, truth and exigencies which need to be handled with care and a lot of patience.

Despite President's Overture,Cleric Lashes out at U.S.
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Days after Iran's president reached out to the American people, a senior Iranian cleric renewed attacks on Washington today, accusing it of plotting against Muslim nations.

Thousands listenened to Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani's sermon at Tehran University, repeatedly interrupting him with shouts of "Death to America!" and "Death to Israel!"

"The hands of the United States are involved in every dispute and the Muslim world ought to be awake and show solidarity to confront the plans against the Muslims," Kashani said.

His harsh words came three days after President Mohammad Khatami told CNN he was open to improving relations with the American people, and are evidence of the opposition that the moderate political leader faces from hard-line clerics.

In the interview, the president called for "dialogue and understanding between the two nations" an unprecedented overture from an Iranian leader since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Although Kashani is not in the government, he is among the influential senior clerics who oppose a thaw in relations with the United States.

Kashani also criticized the United States for its support of Israel.

"They say they are against terrorism but through their actions, the world can see that they themselves are supporters of this terrible situation," he said.

Cleric hits West media on Khatami reporting
TEHRAN,(Reuters) - A conservative senior cleric on Friday blasted Western media for its reporting of televised remarks to Americans by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, saying the reports ignored Khatami's criticism of U.S. policies in the Middle East.

Conservative opponents of the relatively moderate Khatami, with the exception of a hardline daily, have so far refrained from openly criticising the president's sometimes conciliatory remarks in his CNN interview earlier this week.

``They (Western media) arrange and take a few things (from the interview) and they shout it around the world...They make a mountain from a molehill and do propaganda around it,'' Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani said in a prayer sermon broadcast on Tehran radio.

Speaking to thousands of worshippers gathered at Tehran University, Emami Kashani accused Western media of keeping silent about a remark by Khatami that the United States should not allow Israel to make U.S. policies.

``The whole Islamic nation should be aware about this propaganda by global arrogance,'' said Emami Kashani, a leading member of the powerful Guardian Council.

Khatami, the first Iranian leader to speak directly to the American people on television since the 1979 revolution, called for a ``crack in the wall of mistrust'' between Americans and Iranians but made no direct proposal for a dialogue between the two countries' governments.

He strongly criticised U.S. policies towards Iran and the Middle East and the United States's support for Israel.

``Obviously, Washington is the U.S. capital where policy decisions on U.S. national interests must be made,'' Khatami said. ``However, the impression of the people of the Middle East and Moslems in general is that certain U.S. foreign policy decisions are in fact made in Tel Aviv and not in Washington.''

Iran says Israel has no right to exist. It sees the Jewish state as the main enemy of Iran and the Islamic world.

The daily Resalat, close to powerful conservative clerics and bazaar merchants, on Thursday stressed Khatami's criticism of Washington in the interview and said he had exposed ``the U.S. politicians' crimes and injustices in the past 50 years.''

The hardline daily Kayhan was the only newspaper voicing open criticism, taking issue with Khatami's expression of regret over the 1979 hostage-taking at the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

Iranian analysts have said Khatami could also expect criticism from hardliners over his opposition to burning U.S. flags -- a common act during Iranian demonstrations.

Iran's conservative-run state radio and television have also stressed Khatami's critical remarks about U.S. leaders after broadcasting the full interview.

The English-language daily Iran News, which often reflects the views of Iran's Foreign Ministry, said Khatami showed he was ``a shrewd politician with the courage to create a logical dialogue with the outside world.''

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is ranked over the president and has rejected any thaw in ties with Washington, has stopped short of openly criticising Khatami. Khatami has repeatedly called for easing tensions in Iran's foreign relations.

U.S. Congressman Hopes to Visit Iran
WASHINGTON - XINHUA - Tom Lantos, a Democratic Representative, has written to Iranian President Mohamma Khatami expressing his wish to visit the Islamic nation to see whether there is a basis for improvement in U.S.-Iranian relations, a Lantos aide said on Friday.

Lantos sent his letter on Thursday, a day after Khatami's groundbreaking interview with CNN was broadcast both in the United States and Iran, the aide said.

Lantos said in his letter that President Bill Clinton's State of the Union address will take place on Jan. 27, after which Congress will resume normal activities. Lantos said it would be most convenient for him to visit Iran before that date.

Lantos last visited Iran as a university professor i 1978, a year before the Islamic revolution.

Since breaking down of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1980, visits by members of Congress have been rare.

Khatami said in the interview with CNN that he preffered cultural exchanges first and a people-to-people dialogue rather than any political contact. But Washington has repeated its call for a government-to-government dialogue, which it said was the best way to address differences between the two countries.

U.S. Looking for Deeds From Iran
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Clinton administration said Thursday it would take a ``serious, hard look'' at a proposal by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami for expanded cultural exchanges with Iran. But it said such activities are no substitute for a government-to-government dialogue.

Administration officials, after a review of Khatami's comments, welcomed the ``new tone'' he expressed while rejecting his hostile characterizations of American foreign policy and of Israel as a ``racist, terrorist regime.''

Khatami told CNN in the interview aired Wednesday night that exchanges of scholars, artists, writers and tourists could help open ``a crack in the wall of mistrust'' between the two countries.

State Department spokesman James P. Rubin noted that U.S. journalists already visit Iran and that tourists go there as well. But he nonetheless saw Khatami's offer as an opening.

As for the possibility of officially sponsored exchanges, Rubin said, ``we are going to take a serious, hard look'' at the option.

Rubin seemed disappointed that Khatami was not more forthcoming about the possibility of a government-to-government dialogue.

``We think that that would be the best way to overcome the differences,'' Rubin said. ``We should sit down and air differences. We would raise our concerns; the Iranians could raise their concerns.''

After Khatami's inauguration in August, the Clinton administration sent a letter through Swiss diplomats to Iran's foreign ministry proposing face-to-face talks, The Washington Post reported in its Friday editions. The newspaper said it had no details of the letter or a reply, if there was one.

Richard Murphy, a former assistant secretary for the Middle East, saw the prospect for exchanges as a hopeful sign, recalling that U.S. and Chinese participants in a pingpong tournament in 1971 helped pave the way for an end to a two-decade estrangement.

Rubin said the key to an improvement in official relations lies in a halt to Iranian support for terror and to the development of weapons of mass destruction. He noted the United States also objects to Iran's ``violent opposition'' to the Middle East peace process.

Rubin declined to answer a question on Iran's participation in terrorist incidents since Khatami took office last August. But other State Department officials said that Iran was responsible for the deaths of 11 Iranian dissidents outside Iran in 1997, eight since Khatami was sworn in.

There were eight such incidents in 1996.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Iran continues to finance and train terrorist groups opposed to the Middle East peace process. Among these groups are Hezbollah, Hamas and the Palestine Islamic Jihad, they said.

There is some uncertainty here as to how much power Khatami has on national security issues. Hard-line clerics have controlled Iran since the United States severed ties with the country in 1979 after 52 Americans were taken hostage in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held for 444 days.

Khatami expressed regret for the hostage-taking.

Moorhead Kennedy, a former American hostage in Iran, praised Khatami's overture as ``extremely impressive,'' but added that many of his arguments showed ``things haven't changed much.''

But author-in-hiding Salman Rushdie, condemned to death by Iranian clerics for alleged blasphemy, said Khatami's proposal of cultural exchanges falls short.

``Half-measures don't work,'' Rushdie said through a spokeswoman.

A test of Iran's intentions is the degree to which the country complies with the international treaty to ban chemical weapons, which Iran signed late last year.

The treaty requires the destruction of all existing stocks, permits international inspections and bars the transfer of chemical ingredients.

Michael Eisenstadt, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says Iranian compliance with the accord could provide clues as to its intentions.

The administration is convinced that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, but officials say it is not clear just how far along the project is.

With such issues in mind, presidential press secretary Mike McCurry said Thursday the possibility of ending hostility ``depends not just on what Iran says but what Iran does.''

Khatami suggested that Iran can prosper without the United States, but Eisenstadt said Iran would benefit significantly from a reopening of trade relations. He pointed out that Iran's oil infrastructure was built by American firms.

Perhaps with this consideration in mind, Khatami's predecessor as president, Hashemi Rafsanjani, used to say that Iran is more interested in doing business with America than in having political ties.

For its part, a working relationship with Iran is a desirable goal for the United States considering that Iran is the largest country in an area which provides the world with more than 20 percent of its oil.

But officials acknowledge that closer ties could well be out of the question if Iran is found to have had a hand in the June 1996 bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 American servicemen. An investigation is ongoing.

Another potential obstacle is a pending administration decision on whether to impose sanctions against French, Russian and Malaysian companies that signed a $2 billion deal to develop natural gas fields in Iran. Such sanctions are called for under legislation that took effect in 1996.

USA: Dialogue with Iran Can Be Held only at Official Level
WASHINGTON, (Itar-Tass) - A dialogue between the United States and Iran can be held only at an official level. This was declared here in a written statement by State Department Spokesman James Rubin. The document was the first official reaction of the Clinton Administration to the unprecedented interview, which Iranian President Mohammad Khatami gave to the CNN. Khatami urged the sides to do away with the existing enmity between the two countries, by promoting a dialogue between their peoples.

We have listened with interest to President Khatami's interview, the Spokesman noted, and we appreciate that he is eager to open a dialogue with the American people. However, he added, we still believe that the governments of our two countries should conduct a direct dialogue in order to settle the problems, which exist between them. According to Rubin, the United States intends to raise three problems in the course of such a dialogue, which cause the greatest concern: Iran's support to terrorism, its desire to obtain mass annihilation weapons, and its opposition to the Middle East peace process. At the same time, we expect Iran to raise the problems that concern it, the State Department spokesman said. A real improvement of the relations between our two countries will in the long run depend not on what the Iranian government says, but on what it does, he added.

Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Sam Brownback (Republican from Kansas) also made a statement on the Iranian president's appeal to the American people. Iran must not only alter its rhetoric, but also its deeds before we consider the possibility of altering the U.S. policy vis-a-vis that outlawed state, he noted. I shall not back any motion to lift the sanctions against Iran before we see that its behaviour has radically improved, Brownback stressed.

Former hostages back closer U.S.-Iranian ties
By Carol Giacomo
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Few Americans suffered more at the hands of Iran than the hostages whose seizure by Islamic militants in November 1979 helped fuel almost two decades of enmity between Tehran and Washington.

But few are now more enthusiastic about the overtures made by Iranian President Mohammed Khatami in a groundbreaking television interview.

In interviews Thursday, several former hostages said reconnecting with Khatami's strategically important and culturally rich country was important to them personally as well to U.S. foreign policy.

``The emotional part of me wants this relationship because of my own personal feelings for Iran,'' said Barry Rosen, who served in Iran in the Peace Corps in 1969 and was press attache when the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was seized by militant students after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

But while encouraged by Khatami's talk about initiating cultural exchanges with the United States and tearing down a wall of mistrust between between Tehran and Washington, Rosen told Reuters the Iranian government should go farther.

Khatami, in a CNN interview broadcast Wednesday, came closer than any Iranian leader has to expressing public regrets for the 1979 hostage crisis, remembered by Americans as an example of torment and humiliation.

Iran held 52 Americans for 444 days. Khatami referred to the incident as an event that must be seen in the context of a unique era, one born of political turmoil that is unlikely to be repeated.

He ``came as close to giving an apology as we're ever going to get from an Iranian official,'' former hostage Mike Metrinko told CNN.

But Rosen, in a telephone interview, said if Khatami ''really means what he says,'' he should invite the former hostages to Tehran for a dialogue on U.S.-Iranian relations, the embassy seizure ``and why that occurred.''

``For me, that's an important step,'' because while Khatami may be unable or unwilling to apologize on behalf of his government for the hostage-taking, an invitation to the former hostages would prove his goodwill, said Rosen, now head of public affairs for Columbia University's Teachers College in New York.

He said, however, that he doubted the Clinton administration, which has been pushing for a government-to-government dialogue, would approve of an invitation.

Whether Khatami could guarantee security for former hostages on such a visit would also be an issue, Rosen added.

For Moorehead Kennedy, another former hostage, Khatami's main message was a call for people-to-people dialogue, which Kennedy urged be started promptly.

In a telephone interview from his home in Maine, Kennedy, a former senior U.S. diplomat in Tehran, recommended that the administration seize the initiative and temporarily suspend sanctions on Iran ``to see if this will get us anywhere.''

He and Rosen acknowledged there were still major serious issues between the two countries -- including disputes over terrorism and the Middle East peace process -- and said neither side seemed ready for direct talks soon.

There is no doubt Iran too has legitimate complaints, such as the prolonged U.S. support for the shah despite the domestic discontent that was brewing, Rosen said. The shah fled Iran in January 1979, a month before the triumph of the Islamic revolution.

Although some skeptics wonder whether Khatami's conciliatory remarks might largely be an attempt to divide the United States and its allies over Iran, Kennedy said he saw a ``real overture and a very clever one.''

He said he was impressed that Khatami had invoked common cultural antecedents during the interview and had made a ``very moving appeal'' for Americans to try to understand Iran.

U.S. to Look at Boosting Cultural Ties with Iran
By Patrick Worsnip
WASHINGTON, (Reuters) - The United States moved quickly on Thursday to respond to conciliatory comments by Iran's president, saying it would take a ``serious, hard look'' at boosting cultural exchanges as a first step to improving ties.

But the State Department said it was still looking for a political dialogue at government level with Iran, an option not offered by reformist President Mohammad Khatami in a ground-breaking U.S. television interview broadcast on Wednesday.

In the CNN interview, Khatami continued a charm offensive toward the United States, appealing for cultural exchanges as a way to break down years of mistrust between the two countries. He called for a dialogue between academics, writers, artists, journalists and tourists.

``As far as an expansion of (such contacts) is concerned in any way that would have a certain formalized aspect to it, that's what we are going to take a serious, hard look at,'' State Department spokesman James Rubin told reporters.

``However, we believe the best way to address our bilateral differences would be to engage in a government-to-government dialogue. We should sit down and air differences. We would raise our concerns; the Iranians could raise their concerns.''

State Department officials said the United States imposed no special restrictions curbing travel by Americans to Iran or vice-versa. They said few if any visas had been issued in recent years for cultural exchanges, but they were not banned.

Rubin said both President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had been studying Khatami's remarks in a 45-minute interview that appeared to offer the tantalizing prospect of reversing two decades of bitter hostility.

White House press secretary Mike McCurry welcomed Khatami's comments about the United States but said any improvements in U.S.-Iran relations ``depend upon not just what Iran says but what Iran does.''

``We believe that President Khatami made many very positive remarks about the United States. The president appreciates those positive remarks,'' McCurry said.

``We welcome the fact that he wants a dialogue with the American people and between two great civilizations. That can be useful. But it's also important to stress that the best way for issues to be addressed is for governments to talk directly,'' he added.

Long-standing U.S. policy is that any improvement in ties severed during the 1979-81 Iran hostage crisis must include a dialogue on Iran's alleged support for terrorism, opposition to the Middle East peace process and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

Khatami's interview was the first time an Iranian leader has addressed the American people through television since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and combined conciliatory remarks with stern criticisms of U.S. policies.

Rubin said Washington found ``interesting'' Khatami's comments in praise of U.S. civilization, ``noted with interest'' his regrets over the hostage crisis, and regarded his denunciations of terrorism as ``noteworthy.''

But he described Khatami's criticisms of U.S. foreign policy as ``unfounded,'' called his portrayal of a subservient U.S. attitude to Israel ``simplistic and wrong'' and branded his reference to Israel as racist and terrorist ``not acceptable.''

Other U.S. officials cautioned against assessments that Washington was disappointed by the limited opening Khatami had offered, saying no one expected a dramatic breakthrough.

``It's part of an overture ... maybe this is part of a course that might wind up in a dialogue,'' one official said.

Opinions in Congress were divided, with some members expressing outrage at Khatami's denunciation of Israel and saying Iran must improve its behavior, not just its rhetoric, to win relief from U.S. economic sanctions.

But Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey said on Thursday: ``I sure think it's time to listen if we can reach an accommodation'' with Iran.

``I was impressed with what (Khatami) said about his willingness to stand against terrorism. If that's serious and they can prove that that's where they want to take it I think it could be a very positive step,'' he told reporters.

Iranians React Cautiously to Khatami's Offer
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Iranian newspapers endorsed President Mohammad Khatami's cautious offer of a dialogue with the American people, but warned Thursday that the United States had far to go before ties were restored.

The Iranian public came out more strongly in favor of building bridges with the United States an offer Khatami made Wednesday in an interview with CNN. One resident praised Khatami as "a man of action."

Khatami is a "shrewd politician with the courage to create a logical dialogue with the outside world," read an editorial in Iran News, which reflects the views of the Foreign Ministry.

It added that the United States must also make efforts to mend ties.

"At present anyone that takes the first step to establish ties with the U.S. without obtaining concessions from Washington to justify the move and to appease the domestic pressure groups would be committing political suicide," the English-language paper said.

Washington severed relations with Iran after Muslim militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in November 1979 and took 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. The Islamic Revolution toppled the U.S.-backed shah.

In the interview, Khatami expressed regret over the hostage affair.

Khatami, a moderate cleric who won election in May, faces tough opposition from Iranian hard-liners who still refer to the United States as "The Great Satan." To temper their expected attacks, he told CNN he was proposing only unofficial contacts, not formal talks to restore ties with Washington.

The newspaper Resalat, mouthpiece of the hard-line faction, said Khatami had given nothing away to the Americans. In fact, his criticism of U.S. policy toward Iran since 1979 had the Americans end up "owning quite a lot," it said.

Another hard-line newspaper, The Tehran Times, said it was essential that the real feelings of Iranians were conveyed to the American people so they could "exert pressure on their administration to cease plots" against Iran.

"Then it will be one step ahead in the way of resumption of diplomatic ties," the Times said.

However, it warned that the United States must first confess and apologize for the "wrongs they have committed against the Iranians."

Most Iranians could not watch the interview on Cable News Network because of a ban on satellite dishes, but those who saw it on Tehran television early Thursday largely were supportive.

"The dialogue between the two countries suggested by Khatami is actually a prelude to dialogue between the two governments," said Behzad Emami, a 41-year-old civil engineer.

Mojtaba Sebaqat, a 38-year-old restaurant manager, said he was pleased Iran has a president "who is committed to the nation and the interests of the nation."

"He is not a man of slogans and war. He is a man of action," he said. "I think his remarks were quite logical and we expect more positive reaction from U.S. officials."

Even though Khatami carefully directed his comments at American people to sidestep hard-line criticism, there was little doubt in many Iranians' minds about their president's intended audience.

Emami called Khatami's comments "the most daring step toward the resumption of ties between the two countries taken by an Iranian official."

In the strongest hint that U.S.-Iran relations could someday be rehabilitated, the president said the two countries should analyze the fragmenting of their ties.

"If someday another situation is to emerge, we must definitely consider the roots and relevant factors and try to eliminate them," said Khatami, who is pushing for a detente at a time when Iranians have tired of their country being cast as a pariah state by the United States and the West.

Khatami shares power with Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who leads the anti-American hard-liners and has the final word over foreign policy. So far, Khamenei has stopped short of vetoing Khatami's detente.

 

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