Ayatollah approves move for closer Iran-U.S. ties
By Ben Barber
The Washington Times
August 9, 2000
TEHRAN - Iran's supreme religious leader has quietly approved a diplomatic
initiative to contact members of the U.S. Congress with a view to improving
relations, a senior Iranian official said yesterday.
"Iran's ambassador to the United Nations in New York, Nejad Hosseinian,
was here last month and was given special permission by Ayatollah [Ali]
Khamenei to start work and negotiate with American deputies of the Senate
and Congress," said the official, who declined to be identified.
The disclosure stands in stark contrast to the anti-American slogans
being hurled yesterday by Ayatollah Khamenei's supporters protesting outside
the parliament, who accuse the United States of being anti-Islamic.
The senior official acknowledged that Ayatollah Khamenei acted this
week to prevent debate in parliament of a reformer-backed press bill, and
said "he does believe the United States is trying to dominate Iran."
Nevertheless, the official insisted, the supreme leader is more supportive
of the reform movement led by President Mohammed Khatami than he is given
He pointed out that Ayatollah Khamenei forced the Guardian Council -
an election supervisory body controlled by hard-liners - to release the
results of February's parliamentary vote after it became apparent the reformers
had swept the hard-liners out of power.
Ayatollah Khamenei reads Western and American novels, has smoked a pipe,
has worn a wristwatch and listens to the international media, said the
official, who enjoys both official and personal links to the leader.
The official said the United States missed a chance for better relations
when President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright failed
to respond "with respect" to Mr. Khatami's call for closer ties
in a CNN interview in January 1998.
He said the Americans came back with a shopping list of negative issues
to be addressed in any talks, such as terrorism, weapons of mass destruction,
support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and opposition to the Middle East peace
At that point, "Ayatollah Khamenei told the government to stop
its efforts," the official said. "If the U.S. government offers
to hold talks on an open agenda, I think Iran would accept it."
The official welcomed what he called an "important" State
Department decision to list the Iraq-based Iranian opposition group Mojahiden
Khalq as terrorist and to ban it from raising funds in the United States.
But he dismissed as insulting the U.S. decision earlier this year to
ease trade sanctions by permitting the import of Iranian pistachio nuts
The official said one objective in any meeting with members of Congress
would be to discuss Iran's demand for the return of $400 million it paid
for weapons before Iran's 1979 revolution that were never delivered.
The issue has been complicated by a U.S. court, which ruled those assets
may be used to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to a family
whose daughter died in a bus bombing in Israel attributed to the Iranian-backed
terrorist group Hamas.