Free Election Elements Seen in Iran

Free Election Elements Seen in Iran

AP Diplomatic Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - Iran's legislative elections this week are being held against a backdrop of a free press and a diversity of views among competing candidates, the State Department said Monday.

"Clearly there is a lively political culture that has developed there, department spokesman James P. Rubin said. "Clearly candidates from different orientations are able to run."

The U.S. spokesman declined to say, however, what hopes the Clinton administration might harbor for the outcome.

"We obviously don't want to say anything that could affect the election, so I think it probably would be wise for me not to answer that question," Rubin said.

The Clinton administration has long sought to engage Iran in an unconditional dialogue. But again, on Monday, Rubin said there had been no response from Tehran.

The U.S. agenda for such talks, he said, would include allegations that Iran fosters terrorism and opposes Arab-Israeli peacemaking as well as the state of human rights in the Persian Gulf country.

"The fact that we want to talk to Iran about these issues doesn't mean that we believe that they have moderated behavior in these areas," Rubin said.

Yet he added: "Obviously, there has been improvement in terms of the free press that exists in Iran and the elections that are to be held."

"There have been major developments in that area," he said, "and by recognizing those we are not suggesting that we don't have problems with other actions."

Specifically, Rubin deplored death sentences imposed on three members of the Baha'i religion. "These individuals are being persecuted for the mere practice of their faith," he said.

They were arrested in 1997 for violating a government ban on the practice of their religion and have been in prison for two years.

"We urge that the government of Iran protect members of the Baha'i faith and that it ease restrictions on the practice of religion so that all Iranians might enjoy the fundamental human right to freedom of conscience and belief," Rubin said.

In a statement Friday, President Clinton said he was deeply troubled that the death sentences had been reaffirmed for Sirus Zabihi-Moghaddam and Hadayet Kashefi-Najafabadi and the same sentence imposed on Manucher Khulusi.

"Executing people for their religious faith is contrary to the most fundamental human rights principles," Clinton said.

The statement said Clinton holds the Iranian government responsible for the safety of the Baha'is of Iran and strongly urged that the executions not be carried out.

AP-NY-02-14-00 1604EST

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