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Beilin urges shift on Iran

By Danna Harman
Jerusalem Post

JERUSALEM (April 5) - Justice Minister Yossi Beilin yesterday became the first high-level government official to publicly advocate a change in attitude towards Iran.

Speaking at Haifa University, Beilin said that under President Mohammad Khatami, Iran has become "more nuanced" than in the past, and that Israel should take its cue from the US and Europe, which have both launched new initiatives aimed at moving closer to Teheran.

"The US and Europe find there to be a change in Iran," Beilin said. "Under Khatami, and after the elections to the parliament, Iran is more nuanced than the Iran we were used to in the past. Due to the positive changes evidenced in Iran, there is a need to change our approach towards them.

"An opportunity for a new opening is at hand," added Beilin

He stressed, however, that Israel should continue monitoring Iran's policies regarding nonconventional weapons development, support of terror, and Iranian Jewry, as well as its attitude towards the peace process.

Although Beilin was not speaking for Prime Minister Ehud Barak in this case, his words are significant, and indicative of a trend.

Barak, unlike his predecessor Binyamin Netanyahu, has never demonized or attacked Iran and has gone easy on Russia even as it continues to sell technological know-how to Teheran.

Foreign Minister David Levy has said in recent private conversations that the US initiatives towards Iran announced last month by US Secretary of State Madeline Albright were "moves in the right direction."

While officially Israel is not planning to change any of its policies towards Iran, an increasing number of senior officials note that with the redeployment from southern Lebanon looming and no peace deal with Syria in sight, moving closer to Iran - a known backer of Hizbullah - is both a logical and necessary step.

One official said that the US is pushing both Israel and Egypt to move closer to Iran - both to give support to reformist forces there and possibly to help thwart aid to Hizbullah.

Egypt recently announced that it would be signing several financial deals with Iran.

"We had good and special relations with Iran until 1979, and we still have mutual regional interests. There is no clash between the peoples of our countries, nor between our traditions. The problems began under Khomeini, who used Israel as glue to try and create social cohesion within his own country," said Beilin, who concluded his speech by saying, "I do not want to look at Iran with the same glasses that I was using 20 years ago."

Barak spokesman Gadi Baltiansky said in response to Beilin's comments that "Israel is closely watching the goings-on in Iran, including the growing strength of the moderate forces there.

"However, as long as Iran continues to encourage terror, and as long as it continues arming itself with nuclear and non-conventional weapons, there is no room for a change of policy on our part."


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