Bahai News - Rugs, pistachio nuts first step in U.S.-Iran thaw

Rugs, pistachio nuts first step in U.S.-Iran thaw

Mar. 17, 2000 | 2:25 p.m.

By LANCE GAY

Scripps Howard News Service

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration used the start of the Iranian new year to signal an end to 20 years of diplomatic isolation of oil-rich Iran by dropping sanctions on Persian carpets and pistachio nuts.

Diplomats say that's a long way from resuming full U.S.-Iran relations, shattered by Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution and the 444-day hostage crisis that brought down Jimmy Carter's presidency.

But a thaw is clearly underway, spurred by Iranian efforts to reach out to Europe and to negotiate lucrative deals with Italy's Total, France's Elf and Holland's Royal Dutch Shell oil conglomerates.

Robert Pelletreau of the American-Iranian Council said Friday the 1997 election of the Ayatollah Mohammed Khatami and recent Iranian parliamentary elections have shown ``a gradual and steady shift in the direction of reformers and modernizers that bodes very well for the future.''

Pelletreau said it is in Iran's interest to restore business relations with the West so Iran can ease its chronic economic problems and gain access to western technology to produce more oil revenue. But he cautioned these changes will be resisted by conservative religious forces in Iran who will battle western commercialism and any new relationship with the United States.

Any restoration of ties also requires Congress to change tough sanctions laws forbidding American companies from doing business in Iran.

Although Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is calling for a new dialogue, Iranian experts caution major hurdles must be overcome before any friendly relationship can emerge. Among them are Iran's:

-- Support given international terrorism.

-- Vehement rejection of a Middle East peace agreement.

-- Development of chemical and biological weapons programs and construction of new long-range rockets.

-- Crackdowns on Iranian Christians and Baha'i.

Any resumption of full relations also would require a concrete agreement that Tehran would protect American diplomats and business executives.

Speaking to the American-Iranian Council Friday, Albright said the United States now is prepared to talk about its differences with Tehran.

``Spring is the season of hope and renewal, of planting the seeds for new crops, and my hope is that both in Iran and the United States, we can plant the seeds now for a new and better relationship in years to come,'' she said.

Albright said President Clinton is offering Iran a small concession by dropping the U.S. embargo on Persian rugs, Iranian pistachios and caviar. She said she also wants to find ways of increasing exchanges of scholars, artists, professionals, athletes and non-government groups ``to deepen bonds of mutual understanding and trust.''

The speech got a positive response from Tehran. ``Iran thinks it is positive and welcomes it,'' said Hamid Feza Asefi of the Iranian Foreign Ministry.

State Department officials want significant changes in Iran's foreign policy before any further relaxation of sanctions.

Albright spelled out what Tehran must do:

``To date, the political developments in Iran have not caused its military to cease its determined effort to acquire technology, materials, and assistance needed to develop nuclear weapons, nor have those developments caused Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps or its Ministry of Intelligence and Security to get out of the terrorism business. Until these policies change, fully normal ties between our governments will not be possible and our principal sanctions will remain,'' she said.

``The roadmap for meaningful change has been laid out,'' said Robert Gallucci, dean of Georgetown University's school of foreign service. He said it's now up to Tehran to produce.

But he said 20 years of U.S. isolation of Iran is changing, leaving only Saddam Hussein's Iraq isolated in the Middle East, and pointing toward Iran's re-emergence as the Persian Gulf's leading power.

For reaction in Iran on the Web, see the Islamic Republic News Agency at www.irna.com.

(Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)shns.com or http://www.shns.com.)

AP-NY-03-17-00 1517EST


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