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Iran Papers Back U.S. Dialogue

January 8, 1998

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ Iranian newspapers endorsed President Mohammad Khatami’s cautious offer of a dialogue with the American people, but warned Thursday that the United States had far to go before ties were restored.

The Iranian public came out more strongly in favor of building bridges with the United States _ an offer Khatami made Wednesday in an interview with CNN. One resident praised Khatami as ``a man of action.″

Khatami is a ``shrewd politician with the courage to create a logical dialogue with the outside world,″ read an editorial in Iran News, which reflects the views of the Foreign Ministry.

It added that the United States must also make efforts to mend ties.

``At present anyone that takes the first step to establish ties with the U.S. without obtaining concessions from Washington to justify the move and to appease the domestic pressure groups would be committing political suicide,″ the English-language paper said.

Washington severed relations with Iran after Muslim militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in November 1979 and took 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. The Islamic Revolution toppled the U.S.-backed shah.

In the interview, Khatami expressed regret over the hostage affair.

Khatami, a moderate cleric who won election in May, faces tough opposition from Iranian hard-liners who still refer to the United States as ``The Great Satan.″ To temper their expected attacks, he told CNN he was proposing only unofficial contacts, not formal talks to restore ties with Washington.

The newspaper Resalat, mouthpiece of the hard-line faction, said Khatami had given nothing away to the Americans. In fact, his criticism of U.S. policy toward Iran since 1979 had the Americans end up ``owning quite a lot,″ it said.

Another hard-line newspaper, The Tehran Times, said it was essential that the real feelings of Iranians were conveyed to the American people so they could ``exert pressure on their administration to cease plots″ against Iran.

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

However, it warned that the United States must first confess and apologize for the ``wrongs they have committed against the Iranians.″

Most Iranians could not watch the interview on Cable News Network because of a ban on satellite dishes, but those who saw it on Tehran television early Thursday largely were supportive.

``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 civil engineer.

Mojtaba Sebaqat, a 38-year-old restaurant manager, said he was pleased Iran has a president ``who is committed to the nation and the interests of the nation.″

``He is not a man of slogans and war. He is a man of action,″ he said. ``I think his remarks were quite logical and we expect more positive reaction from U.S. officials.″

Even though Khatami carefully directed his comments at American people to sidestep hard-line criticism, there was little doubt in many Iranians’ minds about their president’s intended audience.

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

In the strongest hint that U.S.-Iran relations could someday be rehabilitated, the president said the two countries should analyze the fragmenting of their ties.

``If someday another situation is to emerge, we must definitely consider the roots and relevant factors and try to eliminate them,″ said Khatami, who is pushing for a detente at a time when Iranians have tired of their country being cast as a pariah state by the United States and the West.

Khatami shares power with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who leads the anti-American hard-liners and has the final word over foreign policy. So far, Khamenei has stopped short of vetoing Khatami’s detente.

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