AFP: The prospect of dialogue resuming between the United States and Iran is more distant now than for years, with the situation unlikely to change under a new government in Tehran, outgoing President Mohammad Khatami said. “We are further from it (a resumption of dialogue) today than we have been for some years,” the reformist president said in an interview with Al-Arabiya television broadcast Thursday. AFP
by Farhad Pouladi
TEHRAN – The prospect of dialogue resuming between the United States and Iran is more distant now than for years, with the situation unlikely to change under a new government in Tehran, outgoing President Mohammad Khatami said.
“We are further from it (a resumption of dialogue) today than we have been for some years,” the reformist president said in an interview with Al-Arabiya television broadcast Thursday.
“The United States must take the first step,” said Khatami, who is due to relinquish his post to ultra-conservative Mahmood Ahmadinejad in three weeks.
“Unfortunately, with the arrival in power of the (US) neo-conservatives, not only has the terrain not been well prepared for this but it has deteriorated completely with the Bush administration’s sinful comments,” he added.
During Khatami’s presidency, Iran was labeled a part of the “axis of evil” by President George W. Bush, who alleged that Iran supported terrorism and was seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction.
“I don’t believe the policies toward the United States will change with the government” in Iran, Khatami said.
Iran “will think about” changing its stance if the United States “concretely modifies their policies,” he said, emphasising that the country’s overall political direction is decided not by the president but by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Iran and the United States have not had diplomatic relations since April 1980, after 52 people were taken hostage at the US embassy in Tehran by supporters of the Islamic Revolution and held for 444 days.
Khatami, however, regretted some missed opportunities for rapprochement.
“I think we could have made the situation bear more fruit,” he said. “In some places we had common interests with the Americans,” he said in reference to Afghanistan and Iraq, two of Iran’s neighbours. “But our long-term interests were different.”
When former US president Bill Clinton’s time in office (1993-2001) coincided with Khatami’s own eight year presidency, “some positive steps were made,” Khatami said.
“Clinton’s policies were different than others’ I think. They were more realistic.
“Our relations became closer, to the point that (Madeleine) Albright, then secretary of state, recognised US errors in Iran over the past 50 years. It was a step forward, but the bad American policies that followed have comforted the skeptics in Iran,” he said.
Ahmadinejad, the ultra conservative president-elect, officially takes office on August 3.
During Ahmadinejad’s first press conference after his June presidential victory, the former special forces officer from the hardline Revolutionary Guards declared that Iran “does not need” relations with the United States.
Following Ahmadinejad’s shock election win, some former US hostages said they were sure he was a key player in the hostage crisis.
However, veteran Iranian hostage-takers have vehemently denied Ahmadinejad played a role in the siege, which began on November 4, 1979 when a group of radical student followers of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini stormed the US embassy in Tehran.
Washington has also accused Iran of secretly seeking to develop nuclear weapons and interfering in neighbouring Iraq’s affairs.
But Iran has consistently said it wants to develop its nuclear program for peaceful purposes, and Khatami denied that Iran has any plans to export it Islamic revolution to their countries.
“It’s totally false… Years have passed since this misunderstanding” over spreading the Islamic revolution, he said.
“The best example is Iraq… Even though the majority (of Iraqis) are Shiite,” like Iranians, Khatami said, “we never allowed ourselves to impose our model on them.”