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Iranian Newspaper Prints U.S. Flag

March 28, 2000

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ An Iranian newspaper broke a taboo by printing a color picture of the U.S. flag on its front page today, underscoring growing calls within the country to end more than 20 years of estrangement between the former allies.

The daily Hammihan, which often endeavors to project the viewpoints of both the hard-liners and reformers inside the Islamic government, carried pictures of the U.S. and Iranian flags above an editorial entitled, ``Iran-U.S. ties: dark and bright aspects.″

It was the first time in more than 20 years that the U.S. flag, which the hard-line clergy has portrayed as a symbol of hatred since the 1979 Islamic revolution that ousted the U.S.-backed shah, was published with respect in a mainstream Iranian daily.

``Political activists, politicians and party leaders in Iran do not seriously oppose resumption of ties with the United States,″ the editorial said. What divided politicians, it said, was how far Iran should go to re-establish ties.

Earlier this month, the United States eased sanctions on some Iranian goods and called on Tehran to help start a new relationship. Washington severed ties with Tehran after militants loyal to the new revolutionary government stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held Americans hostage for 444 days.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s call on March 17 for a better relationship has provoked a mixed response in Iran.

Reform lawmakers, and newspapers that back the moderate President Mohammad Khatami, have welcomed the U.S. gesture. But hard-liners, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have slammed it as ``deceitful.″

Hammihan said that American leaders were similarly divided because they appeared to favor ties, but were unsure about the terms.

The U.S. flag was displayed with respect rather than revulsion for the first time during a 1998 visit to Iran by a group of U.S. wrestlers.

Although there is no written rule, prior to Khatami’s 1997 election printing the U.S. flag in a respectful manner could have led to the permanent closure of a newspaper and heavy fines for its editors.

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