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December 15, 1986

U.S. Officials Wary Of Closer Ties Between Iran And Soviet Union With PM-US-Iran-Contras Rdp Bjt

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The signing of a Soviet-Iranian trade agreement last week reinforced U.S. fears of closer ties between Tehran and Moscow, even though Iranian leaders made clear they regard the Kremlin with suspicion.

American officials, considering Iran’s long northern border with the Soviet Union and dominance of Gulf oil routes, have long been haunted by the spector of greater Russian influence, and possible control, in Iran.

″We are watching and listening,″ said one State Department official, noting that although Tehran agreed on Thursday to let hundreds of Soviet technicians back into Iran, Iranian officials also denounced Moscow for sending troops to Afghanistan and arms to Iraq, the two nations that flank Iran.

The speaker of the Iranian parliament, Hojatoeslam Hashemi Rafsanjani, on Saturday repeated his criticism of the Soviet Union, saying that neither the United States nor the Soviet Union was really interested in ending the 6-year- old war between Iran and Iraq, and had a ″biased attitude″ toward the conflict.

Lashing out at the Soviets, Rafsanjani said his government ″has opposed their oppressive policies,″ and he urged the Kremlin to withdraw its estimated 115,000 troops from Afghanistan. The Soviet forces are helping the shaky Kabul government battle anti-Communist Moslem guerrillas.

Iranian fundamentalist Moslem leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini has often made clear his distaste for the officially atheistic Communist regime in Moscow, describing both it and the United States as the Great Satan.

The Iranian decision to receive a high-powered Soviet trade delegation and sign an agreement is part of a wider effort by Iran to rebuild international bridges that collapsed after the 1979 revolution, said Khosrow Shakeri, an Iranian scholar at the Kennan Center for Advanced Russian Studies in Washington.

U.S. officials agreed, describing the visit and the agreement as a step rather than a leap in slowly improving Iranian-Soviet relations.

″It’s part a continuation of Iran’s efforts to normalize relations with other nations,″ said a U.S. analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity.

President Reagan voiced the long-standing American concern about Soviet influence in Iran, implying in a speech on Nov. 13 that it was one reason he sold arms to Tehran.

″Geography explains why the Soviet Union has sent an army into Afghanistan ... and, if they could, Iran and Pakistan,″ said Reagan. Former White House national security adviser Robert McFarlane, who traveled to Tehran last May bearing a shipment of arms, echoed Reagan in congressional testimony last week.

The Iranians stand to make several econonmic gains in their dealing with the Russians. The head of the Soviet State Committee for Foreign Economic Relations, Konstantin F. Katushev, won an agreement to ship Iran equipment for mining and steel and aluminum production and to permit the return of hundreds of Soviet technicians to work on power stations and a steel mill in Isfahan.

The Russians are also to build eight huge grain silos and study the feasibility of hydroelectric projects on the Aras, Atrak and Tajan rivers the Iranian-Soviet border.

Iranian officials have already agreed to resume natural gas supplies to the Soviet Union along a pipeline shut down after revolution and have expressed interest in buying Soviet oil drilling gear and ships for offshore exploration.

Ties between Tehran and Moscow were strained after the revolution and Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Relations worsened after a Soviet spy who defected to Britain identified many Russian agents in the government and armed forces.

Hundreds of members of the Tudeh Party, a communist organization linked to Moscow, were jailed and an undisclosed number were executed. Iran also expelled 16 Soviet diplomats on spy charges.

Rafsanjani cited the 1984 crackdown for what he called ″Soviet resentment″ against Iran.

Katushev’s mission, officially the 10th ministerial meeting of the Permanent Commission for Soviet-Iranian Cooperation, originally was scheduled in 1980 but was delayed for six years because of bilateral friction.

Despite the strain, Tehran has better relations with Moscow than with Washington. The Soviets have an embassy in Tehran, in contrast to the United States, which severed diplomatic and trade ties after Iranian militants seized the U.S. Embassy on Nov. 4, 1979 and took 52 Americans hostage.

Although Iran was long an ally of the United States, many Iranians were bitter over the U.S. role in the ouster of nationalist Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 and American support for the late Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who was accused of numerous human rights violations.

Russian tension with Iran began much earlier. Russian Czars grabbed bits of territory from the shahs of what was then Persia in the 19th century.

The Kremlin appetite persisted in the 20th century. The Soviet Union occupied the northern half of Iran during World War II, and in 1945 the Soviet Union established short-lived client states in what are now Iranian Azerbaijan and Kurdistan, and bitter feelings linger.

The American fear is that chaos may follow the eventual death of Khomeini and Iran - as the late Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev once said - will fall like a ripe pear into the Soviet yard.

Rafsanjani is not the only Iranian leader who is wary of Moscow.

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati told the visiting Soviet delegation that the Red Army presence in Afghanistan was ″detrimental to the interests of the region,″ and President Ali Khameni said ″the issue of Afghanistan can only be settled once an independent and popular government comes to power in Afghanistan.″

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