Iran reformers urge U.S. to review policy
Tehran (Reuters) - Reformist members of parliament in Iran have urged
the United States to take note of democratic changes in their country and
move to normalise relations. The two countries, arch foes for more than
two decades, have shown slight signs of thawing ties since reformists made
a strong showing in Iran's February parliamentary elections.
"Today, Iran has become a model for pluralism in the Middle East,"
Elahe Koulaei, a leading reformist MP, told Reuters earlier this week.
"America cannot ignore our new role." But the United States should
take the first step, she said.
"The developments in Iran towards greater pluralism and rule of
law has paved the way for detente with other countries. It is up to America
to take advantage of the existing climate."
Washington has repeatedly called for official talks with Tehran to settle
differences, dating back to the 1979 Islamic revolution which overthrew
the U.S.-backed shah. But Iran has rejected these overtures, demanding
first an end to U.S. economic sanctions against the Islamic republic and
other "practical steps."
"If America shows flexibility and changes its policies for real
and in practice, ties can expand to meet our two countries' interests,"
Koulaei said. Washington has made concessions to encourage President Mohammed
Khatami's liberal reforms, but relations remain sour.
Keen as many MPs are for rapprochement, Iran's parliament has no mandate
on strategic issues, including U.S. ties. Such power rests with Supreme
Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has publicly rejected mending relations
with the United States.
But Parliament Speaker Mehdi Karroubi, a Khatami ally, had an apparently
chance encounter with a group of U.S. senators while in New York for a
UN meeting of world parliamentarians last month.
Such contacts in the past have led to outcry in Iran, sending officials
and diplomats scurrying to deny them. But Karroubi was not scolded, at
least in public, creating the impression he may have acted with approval
from the top.
"Law-makers represent a nation. We are not in war with American
people," said reformist MP Mohammed Ali Kuzehgar. "If our two
peoples can have contacts, their representatives can too." The two
nations resumed limited social contact after Khatami's 1997 election, ending
nearly 20 years of animosity.
Shouts of "Death to America" and burning U.S. flag were once
a staple of almost daily demonstrations in Iran. Washington, for its part,
called Iran an "outlaw nation" or "rogue" state. Now
the tone, at least, has changed.
"Our nation has always shown it respects a country that respects
us. Iran and America can take...advantage of this new climate and try to
reach an understanding," Kuzehgar said.
Instead of demonising all U.S. leaders, Iran appears to be trying to
seek friends there, especially in Congress. Iran's improving image has
already borne fruit, with a slight relaxation of the U.S. economic embargo.
But the bulk of sanctions remain in place and hurt Iran's economy. Washington's
opposition makes it difficult for Iran to join the World Trade Organisation,
to draw loans from international banks and attract investment from foreign
firms. Reformists want to see an end to the waiting and some in the conservative
camp broadly agree.
"The diplomacy of patience does not work," said Mohammed Sadeq
Mahfouzi, an Islamic scholar and political insider. "Our future rests
in peaceful coexistence with others. We cannot afford to give up historical
"We must not be crippled by our fears. There is no need to fear
talks with America if we are assured of our strong and independent identity,"