Mutual respect

Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and US President George W. Bush both were in New York City July 10. The two men's paths did not cross, despite wishful thinking from some Department of State optimists. Bush's 6-hr trip was strictly focused on domestic issues, with the White House's message squarely on education and health care.

Jul 23rd, 2001

Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and US President George W. Bush both were in New York City July 10. The two men's paths did not cross, despite wishful thinking from some Department of State optimists. Bush's 6-hr trip was strictly focused on domestic issues, with the White House's message squarely on education and health care.

But Bush's uncertain foreign policy goals on the sanctions issue still captured the spotlight, thanks to a high-profile speech given by Kharrazi at Columbia University cosponsored by the foreign policy think tank Eurasia Group. It was Kharrazi's first visit to the US since moderate Iranian President Mohammad Khatami won a decisive reelection last month.

According to the Voice of America, Kharrazi said any future dialogue between the two countries must be based on "equal footing and mutual respect." The US therefore should stop acting paternalistic to "build trust between two governments and two nations. But I think there are a lot of opportunities in this respect, if there were a political will on both sides."

Muted signals

Iran has offered some muted signals it may be interested in more direct communication with the US; however, the Bush administration for now has said it will reject any direct talks until Iran disavows itself from alleged support for terrorism groups. Nevertheless, the new administration has not been completely intransigent. Sec. of State Colin Powell, and Vice Pres. Dick Cheney both have expressed reservations about automatically considering economic sanctions as a foreign policy tool.

With regard to Iran, Cheney made several industry speeches as chairman of Halliburton Co. protesting the Iran Libya Sanctions Act of 1996, calling it counterproductive and bad policy. ILSA seeks to punish foreign companies or countries that invest in either country.

It has never been enforced, but the fact that the law is still on the books rankles the Iranians and US allies.

One of Powell's first acts as head of the State department was to seek an interagency review of all current sanctions against Iran and dozens of other countries, both unilateral and multilateral.

All these actions are positive signs to Kharrazi and other moderates in the Iranian government. But broad bipartisan efforts by the US Congress to reimpose ILSA for another 5 years may test the resolve of the administration (see related item, Newsletter, p. 7).

"We will have to wait and see how it goes," Kharrazi said, noting that reauthorizing ILSA "would be a negative signal."

Enemies within

Indeed, both the Bush administration and Khatami's government face great internal obstacles from their own governments before frank discussions, and the possible removal of sanctions, may take place, say foreign policy experts.

"The most significant aspect of Foreign Minister Kharrazi's public appearances has been the tremendous domestic pressure he has been under not to appear too conciliatory," Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia said. "Combined with the unwillingness of Congress to budge on sanctions, it is difficult to imagine the sort of warming between the United States and Iran envisioned during President Bush's campaign.

"It is the inability-and the unwillingness-of Washington and Tehran to come to terms with each other's domestic constraints that poses the greatest obstacle to developing a closer relationship between the two countries."

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