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Khatami Seeks More Than Words

By William Drozdiak
Washington Post
July 12, 2000

BERLIN - The Iranian president, Mohammed Khatami, said Tuesday he recognized that a ''new turn'' had taken place in his country's relations with the United States, but he urged the Clinton administration to take more ambitious initiatives in pursuing a reconciliation with Tehran.

Making the first visit to Germany since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, Mr. Khatami used the occasion to implore the United States to follow up its recent acknowledgment about mistaken policies in the past with a bolder shift toward practical steps that could improve relations in the future.

Mr. Khatami's comments, expressed during an interview with German television during a three-day state visit to one of America's closest allies, were the most explicit appeal for improved relations with Washington that he has made since being elected three years ago, diplomats said.

He praised Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's speech in February, in which she called for a reversal in more than two decades of hostility between Washington and Tehran, as a promising approach that deserved a more convincing follow-up. But he lamented that ''no concrete steps'' have been taken apart from a relaxation of a previous ban on Iran's exports of carpets and pistachios.

During that speech, Mrs. Albright stopped short of a public apology but admitted the United States had created a climate of mistrust with Tehran through its role in the 1953 overthrow of Iran's prime minister, its long-standing support for the dictatorial shah, and its tilt toward Iraq during the seven-year war with Iran.

''If the United States now lets this admission be followed by deeds, and tries through practical politics to make amends for the past, then we can expect our two countries to enjoy good relations,'' Mr. Khatami said. ''One knows where the problems are, but the key to solving them lies solely in the hands of the United States.''

Mr. Khatami expressed his ''abiding respect for the American people'' and said he hoped the United States, as well as Germany and other European allies, would show patience as Iran engaged in ''a new experience with democracy that is also connected to the spiritual and moral traditions of its society.''

Referring to the hard-line revolutionaries at home and opponents in exile who have staged protests against his visit in Germany, Mr. Khatami said it was natural that there should be opposition ''at home and abroad'' but that neither democracy, history or human rights could be judged on a one dimensional basis.

''Every people has the right to its own understanding of human rights on the basis of its own culture and its own history,'' he said.

Mr. Khatami's visit, following trips last year to France and Italy, has provided a significant boost to commercial exchanges between Iran and its biggest trading partner in the West.

The German engineering firm Linde was awarded a $340 million contract to build a new petrochemicals plant after Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder announced that his government would boost export credits to Iran five-fold to $500 million

Mr. Khatami winds up his trip to Germany with a stop Wednesday in the cultural capital of Weimar, where he will unveil a monument to Hafez, the 14th century Persian poet who was greatly admired by Germany's most famous classical poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.


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