IRAN REACTS CAUTIOUSLY TO NEW US OVERTURES
PARIS 19TH JUNE (IPS) Iran reacted cautiously, at low level and with certain suspicion to the new US diplomatic overtures expressed Wednesday and Thursday by State Secretary Madeleine Albright and president Bill Clinton, offering a "genuine reconciliation", saying the "walls of mistrust" may remain "high" until the US changes "really its hostile policy" towards the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In the run out of the forthcoming Iran-America soccer match in Lyon, France on Sunday, Mrs Albraight said Washington was "ready to explore further ways to build mutual confidence and avoid misunderstandings", adding that "if such a process can be initiated and sustained in a way that addresses the concerns of both sides, then we in the United States can see the prospect of a very different relationship".
"What we want is a genuine reconciliation with Iran based on mutuality and reciprocity and a sense the Iranians are prepared to move away from support of terrorism and distribution of dangerous weapons as well as ending its opposition to the Middle East Peace Process", Mr Clinton said.
"Washington's mere announcement that it is prepared to establish ties with Iran is inadequate. Washington must show goodwill as well, renounce to violence against Iran, ends its support for Iranian terrorist groups, (a reference to Baghdad-based, Iraqi financed and equiped Mujahedeen Khalq Organisation) the free frozen Iranian assets, apologise to the Iranian nations for its wrong policies in the past 50 years", Tehran Radio replied in a commentary which echoed earlier declaration by the Iranian Foreign Minister, who had also stated that removing all economic sanctions against Iran was "prerequisite" for improving relations.
Iran's initial no reaction may be attributed to the coincidence of the dramatic announcements with the start of week end in Iran, falling on Thursday and Friday, but most importantly to the illness of the ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i, the regime's overall boss who, among other things, dictates the foreign policy.
The United States severed its relations with the new Islamic regime of Iran after so-called students occupied the US Embassy in Tehran in November 1979 and took 52 American diplomats hostage for 444 days.
Ending a state visit to Spain, Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said Mrs though Mrs Albright's statement showed Americans were coming to some "new understandings" of Iran, yet, if Washington was serious, it should transform its intentions into concrete acts.
The total silence observed on the issue by the ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Chairman of the Council of the Discernment of the State's Interests and the regime's second highest personality during the traditional Friday priers may confirms the illness of Mr Khameneh'i and explains the subsequent low profile adopted by the Iranian officials to what is widely believed to represent the "strongest signal" by the Clinton Administration to normalise its relations with Iran, its most hostile contender.
"Being one of the architects of the secret negotiations aimed at normalising relations, Mr Rafsanjani could not but keep silence as to not provoke the conservatives. The more noise and the weaker the chances of normalisation " observed on senior Iranian analyst.
However, a close study of Mrs Albraight's speech, Mr Clinton's statement and the Iranian reaction shows there are much rhetoric and noise for nothing than effective, concrete measures aimed at resuming relations, as both sides, despite a change in the tune, are basically reiterating their fundamental pre-conditions.
"This is all nice talks. President Clinton has nice words for his Iranian counterpart, Mrs Albrights refer to the Islamic Republic of Iran and observes that Islam was against terrorism and violence, but concretely, neither are ready for full diplomatic relations" said an Iranian political commentator in Tehran.
"Both sides should spell out clearly and concretely what they want and expect from each other", observed Shahin Fatemi, a professor of Economy with the American University in Paris.
Observers also noted that the new American initiative was announced at a time that in Tehran, the conservatives, taking advantage from the absence of the ayatollah Khameneh'i from the political life have successfully launched an all out assault against the reform seeking president.
In effect, in less than one week, they brought to court one of Mr Khatami's most powerful, influential and trusted supporter in the Mayor of Tehran, Mr Qolam Hossein Karbaschi, closing down of the newspaper "Jame'eh" considered to be his mouthpiece and impeaching his Interior Minister, the hojatoleslam Abdollah Nouri, considered his strongest pillar.
For this reason, some analysts regretted that the US Administration acted belatedly. "The American should have come forward before Khatami loses momentum. But, anyway, this is a positive step and Iran must reciprocate or it will face a very dangerous situation", said Mr Fatemi, adding that the outcome of
Noting that Washington has taken the initiative from the Iranian side, American-Iranian Council's president Mr Houshang Amir Ahmadi expressed his doubted that present bitter power struggle raging in Tehran between the conservatives and the reformists would allow the Iranian president to reciprocate to the new American overtures towards Iran.
As things stands the outcome of impeachment of Mr Nouri in the Majles has its significance, for, if he is reconfirmed, that would be a strong signal, encouraging the US Administration to continue its normalising drive more thoroughly, but if the conservatives bring down the Interior Minister, there will be a setback as the American would not bet on a lame horse, analysts warns.
Informed sources told the IPS that the game will get serious when Mr Khatami goes to New York to address the next United Nations General Assembly.
Until then, the sources say, tow men are to be closely watched: They are the new Iranian and American Ambassadors at the UN, Richard Holbrooke and Mohammad Hadi Nedzad Hosseinian. While the Iranian is reported to be trusted by the Tehran higher hierarchy, Mr Holbrooke has worked with the Iranians in Bosnia during one of those odd times that Washington and Tehran had converging interests.