Iran considers diplomatic ties with U.S.

Monday, April 14, 2003

For the first time, Iran's ruling clergy is said to be considering establishing diplomatic relations with the United States.

Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who heads a panel established by the clergy, outlined ways that Teheran could restore ties with the United States. Rafsanjani said this could include either a national referendum or a decision by his Expediency Council, Middle East Newsline reported.

"One solution is to hold a referendum to see what the society says provided the parliament approves it and then it is accepted by the supreme leader," Rafsanjani said in an interview with the Rahbord periodical and quoted by the official Islamic Republic News Agency. "The other solution is that the problem is referred to us [at the council] and we discuss it and announce what is expedient. Of course, the leader should approve this too."

Rafsanjani's reference was to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, regarded as the supreme leader of Iran. The Rahbord "strategy" in Farsi periodical is published by the Center for Strategic Studies.

Western diplomatic sources said Rafsanjani's remarks could imply a significant departure from the ruling clergy's opposition to relations with Washington. For several years, Rafsanjani's successor, Mohammed Khatami, examined the prospect of restoring ties with Washington, but his policy was overruled by the clergy.

The Expediency Council is meant to facilitate relations between Iran's parliament and the Guardian Council, directly operated by the clerics. Rafsanjani's panel, however, is said to be an extension of the ruling clerics and has often stymied parliamentary powers.

Over the weekend, Iranian television and Western diplomatic sources reported several attacks on the Iranian opposition Mujahadeen Khalq. In one attack in the northern town of Al Saadiyah, 160 kilometers north of Baghdad, five Mujahadeen combatants were said to have been killed. The group said 18 of its fighters were killed last week in an attack on a Mujahadeen base by special forces sent by the Iranian Intelligence Ministry.

"To carry out these terrorist attacks and schemes, the Ministry of Intelligence sent a large number of its henchmen and agents as well as a number of its Kurdish and Arabic-speaking operatives to Iraq," the Mujahadeen said in a statement. "At the same time, the clerical regime shell ed a number of other Mujahadeen bases along the Iran-Iraq border with heavy artillery."

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