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Iranians Praise Khatami for Speech

January 8, 1998

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ Iranians and Iranian newspapers praised President Mohammad Khatami today for proposing warmer relations with Americans _ and said they are waiting to see if the U.S. and its people accept the invitation.

``In a brave, polite and unprecedented manner, Mr. Khatami said everything that no other Iranian leader dared to say before,″ said Ahmad Moallemi, a civil servant. ``Now, the ball is in the U.S. court.″

All newspapers reported Khatami’s remarks, made in an interview with CNN that aired Wednesday in the United States and today in Iran, but only the government-controlled Iran News and another daily, the pro-clergy Tehran News, offered editorial comment.

Khatami is a ``shrewd politician with the courage to create a logical dialogue with the outside world,″ Iran News said in an editorial.

He has ``put the entire responsibility on the U.S., saying Washington should abstain from adopting hostile policies towards Iran,″ the English-language newspaper said.

Iranian newspapers published late so they could include either the full text or excerpts of the interview, which was rebroadcast on Iranian television at 6 a.m.

At that time most Iranians would have been awake to eat a pre-dawn meal before beginning the daylong fast as part of the holy month of Ramadan.

Even though Khatami carefully directed his comments at American people to avoid angering hard-liners _ who reject any contact with the U.S. government _ there was little doubt in many Iranians’ minds about the president’s intended audience _ Washington.

``The dialogue between the two countries suggested by Khatami is actually a prelude to dialogue between the two governments,″ said Behzad Emami, a 41-year-old engineer.

He called Khatami’s comments ``the most daring step toward the resumption of ties between the two countries taken by an Iranian official.″

Even the Tehran Times, which reflects the opinions of Iran’s powerful clergy, titled its editorial: ``A recipe for the resumption of Irano-U.S. relations.″

Now it becomes essential that Iranians’ real feelings are conveyed to the Americans so they can ``exert pressure on their administration to cease plots″ against Iran, the Times said.

``Then it will be one step ahead in the way of resumption of diplomatic ties,″ it said.

But the paper warned that the United States must first acknowledge and apologize for the ``wrongs they have committed against the Iranians.″

``These are the most essential ingredients of a recipe for the resumption of diplomatic ties. ... There is of course no use of giving the green light to the White House if these terms and conditions are not met.″

Iran News also said that Khatami’s political career would be jeopardized if his offer did not evoke a positive American reaction.

``At present anyone that takes the first step to establish ties with the U.S. without obtaining concessions from Washington to justify the move ... would be committing political suicide, regardless of his position,″ the paper said.

Iran’s hard-line clergy did not immediately comment on Khatami’s comments. The president can expect criticism for expressing regret at the seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran at the outset of the 1979 Islamic revolution that overthrew the U.S.-backed Shah.

His praise for American society, long condemned in Iran as corrupt and immoral, and his opposition to the burning of the American flag, also will not sit well with conservatives in Iran.

Still, it is clear that Khatami’s interview _ which also was played on Iranian radio at 1 p.m. and was scheduled for an additional airing after tonight’s evening news _ was as much for local consumption as for the Americans.

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