U.S. eases sanctions on Iran
Albright hopes changes will lead to stronger relations
Knight Ridder Newspapers
WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Madeleine Albright signaled Friday a major shift in U.S. policy toward Iran, announcing the lifting of sanctions on imports of Iranian carpets, dried fruit, nuts and caviar.
"I have no illusions that the United States and Iran will be able to overcome decades of estrangement overnight," Ms. Albright said at a conference sponsored by the American Iranian Council, which promotes closer ties with Iran. "We can't build a relationship on carpets and grain alone. But the direction of our relations is more important than the pace."
The Reagan and Bush administrations also tried to cultivate moderates in Iran, in President Reagan's case by secretly selling weapons to Tehran, but so far Iran has rejected American overtures.
Administration officials are heartened, however, by Iran's newly elected Majlis, or parliament, which will convene in June with a majority of reformers and moderates eager to rein in the country's authoritarian, conservative clerics. Ms. Albright said the lifting of sanctions is intended in part to signal U.S. support for the parliament.
Many analysts, however, worry that the radical conservatives who still dominate Iran's judiciary, Revolutionary Guard corps, secret police and intelligence services are unlikely to accept defeat. An ominous sign came last week, when Saeed Hajjarian, deputy chairman of Tehran's City Council and one of Iran's leading reformists, was gunned down outside his office. He remains in serious condition at a Tehran hospital.
Ms. Albright's comments seemed intended to put to rest past grievances on both sides and to lay the groundwork for addressing other issues, such as returning Iranian assets, which Iran says amount to as much as $12 billion. The United States froze the Iranian government's assets in the United States in 1979, after Iranian militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 55 Americans hostage.
"The United States is prepared to increase efforts with Iran aimed at eventually concluding a global settlement of outstanding legal claims between our two countries," Ms. Albright said.
Most of the Iranian assets the United States seized have been returned, she said. "But our goal now is to settle the relatively few, but very substantial, claims that are still outstanding between our two governments. . . . And by so doing, to put this issue behind us once and for all."
Ms. Albright said the United States and Iran share guilt for the hostility between them. She acknowledged that the United States helped overthrow Iran's popular prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, in 1953 and return the autocratic shah to power.
"And it's easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs," she said.
"But we have our own list of grievances - and they are serious," Ms. Albright said. "The embassy takeover was a disgraceful breach of Iran's international responsibilities and a trauma for the hostages and their families. And innocent Americans and friends of America have been murdered by terrorist groups that are supported by the Iranian government.
"But the question both countries now face is whether to allow the past to freeze the future, or to find a way to plant the seeds of a new relationship that will enable us to harvest shared advantages in years to come, not more tragedies."
Ms. Albright emphasized that the United States would like Iran to change its policy on several fronts, including its support of militant Islamic groups such as Hezbollah, its treatment of Bahais, Jews and other minorities, and its attempts to develop nuclear weapons.
"The United States imposed sanctions against Iran because of our concerns about proliferation," Ms. Albright said, "and because the authorities exercising control in Tehran financed and supported terrorist groups, including those violently opposed to the Middle East peace process." Until those issues are resolved, relations between Iran and the United States cannot be normalized, she said.
©Copyright 2000, The Dallas Morning News