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Iran Foreign Minister Calls For Cooperation with U.S.

By Robin Wright
Los Angeles Times

With ranking U.S. officials in the audience, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on Monday called for new cooperation between Tehran and Washington on terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and international narcotics trafficking, while inviting U.S. businesses to play a new role in developing Iran's economy.

At a speech at the Asia Society here, Kharrazi also said that the year-old government of President Mohammad Khatami is committed to a "balanced" policy of expanding relations with countries both near and far and a "tranquil global order of human dignity and mutual respect."

He said that Iran's approach toward the United States will be "commensurate" with changes in U.S. behavior toward Iran, leaving open the possibility of an eventual restoration of relations after nearly a 20-year freeze.

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering, who was in the audience, said the Kharrazi speech was hopeful in that it "held the door open on a number of subjects that are of great interest to us," such as terrorism and unconventional weapons, and "proffered the hand of cooperation." He said the mere fact that Kharrazi was prepared to give a speech on U.S.-Iran relations in the United States was "an important step forward."

But Pickering also said he had hoped that Iran and the United States would have been able to move faster and beyond the stage of giving speeches to each other.

Kharrazi also underscored the remaining gap. He said that the recent "change of tone" by the Clinton administration toward Iran is not yet enough to warrant a "substantive policy revision" that would lead to formal diplomatic relations.

"The absence of visible signs of its intention or ability to change course are hardly compatible with the proposal to develop a road map to change the state of affairs. There is no ground for political negotiations while these politics continue," Kharrazi told an audience filled with current and former senior officials from the Clinton, Bush, Reagan and Carter administrations.

Kharrazi's speech was designed to be a direct response to a speech on Iran given by Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright at the Asia Society in June. Acknowledging that the momentum of change in Tehran offered a "historic opportunity" for ending two decades of hostility, Albright said then that the time had come to "test the possibilities for bridging the gap." She appealed to Khatami's government for a "road map" to the normalization of relations.

Despite Albright's acknowledgment of Iran's constructive role in regional crises, Kharrazi said Monday that the United States still appears determined to "sabotage" Iranian policy and undermine the Tehran government, most notably with a new Persian-language radio service mandated by Congress that will be initiated next month.

"The United States political leadership remains preoccupied with Cold War mentality and has fallen behind fundamental changes on the eve of the new millennium," he said.

Kharrazi was particularly critical of ongoing U.S. sanctions aimed at Iran and at companies in third countries that do business with Iran. "U.S. policies aimed at retarding economic prosperity of Iran and the region remain in place," he said.

Kharrazi also called for intensifying cultural exchanges between Americans and Iranians and for new involvement by the American business community in developing Iran's economy.

"Iran will not block the participation of the American business community in Iranian economic projects," he said. "This for our part paves the road for economic engagement." The invitation to American business, while still limited by U.S. sanctions laws, marks a departure from past Iranian policies of limiting foreign involvement to avoid the kind of economic dependence that marked U.S.-Iranian relations under the shah.