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Western Press Review: Iran's President Appears To Offer Hand To Great Satan

  • Don Hill

Prague, 8 January 1998 (RFE/RL -- Iran's President Mohammad Khatami addressed the U.S. public via a CNN interview last night and the U.S. press responds today with a flurry of analysis and commentary. Commentators generally welcome the tone of the remarks, but point out numerous barriers to further rapprochement. The interview's starting time (midnight in Prague) came too late to permit most European outlets to comment.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Khatami made one of his nation's strongest overtures toward the U.S.

In a Los Angeles Times news analysis, John Daniszewski summarizes the Khatami presentation, with reservations, as a strong overture. The writer says: "(He) made one of his nation's strongest overtures toward the United States since Iran's Islamic revolution, inviting American scholars, artists and tourists to visit his nation to help create a 'crack in the wall' of hostility dividing the two nations. But Khatami added that 'a bulky wall of mistrust' remains and is too great for the U.S.-sought, government-to-government talks to have any chance for success at this time.

"Although the tone of Khatami's speech -- an instance of international diplomacy via the Cable News Network -- was overwhelmingly conciliatory and respectful toward America, the Iranian president said his country is not desperate for political relations. It is prepared to wait until it sees a more friendly attitude from U.S. officials."

NEW YORK TIMES: For all the friendly gestures, the hard edge of Iran's hostility to America was still present

The New York Times says in an editorial that the remarks constitute a welcome start toward what would be a long recuperation of bilateral relations. It says: "Americans accustomed to Iranian clerics fulminating against the United States may have been pleasantly surprised to encounter Mohammed Khatami on CNN (last) evening. The new Iranian president spoke admiringly of American civilization, sprinkling his comments with respectful references to the Pilgrims and Abraham Lincoln. He called for cultural and education exchanges between Iran and America. But for all the friendly gestures, the hard edge of Iran's hostility to America was still present. By the end of Khatami's interview, with Christiane Amanpour, it was clear there would be no quick healing of the rift between Tehran and Washington."

The Times says: "Khatami's attack on the American government as the cause of poverty and oppression around the world was crude and rigidly ideological. His complaints about American policy toward Iran were simplistic, though not entirely without merit on the question of Washington's blind support for the corrupt regime of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi."

The editorial concludes: "The years of enmity between Washington and Tehran should end. The hostility no longer serves the interest of either nation. But it cannot be eliminated, or even productively addressed, if Khatami will not countenance direct discussions with the American government."

INDEPENDENT: The leader of one of the most conservative regimes decided to bypass conventional channels of diplomacy

In London, The Independent carries an analysis by Mary Dejevsky emphasizing not just the message, but also the medium. She writes: "(The interview) was without precedent. The elected leader of one of the most conservative regimes in the world had decided to bypass conventional channels of diplomacy and use the 20th century medium of communications to appeal directly to t he American public."

Dejevsky says: "That Mr. Khatami agreed to be interviewed by a woman correspondent -- albeit one with her hair decorously covered -- also sent a message, to America and Iran, that the hints of relative liberalism detected in his election program, and believed to have brought him victory, were for real."

NEWSDAY: Strategic engagement must replace the current policy of political confrontation

In the U.S. newspaper Newsday, James A. Bill, director of an international studies center at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, comments that the United States should move promptly to engage Iran in amicable dialogue. Bill writes: "The president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mohammad Khatami, has astonished the world with his repeated emphasis upon rule of law, civil society, freedom of expression and international diplomatic cooperation. Khatami is busily burying the stereotypes about turbaned political leaders in the Mideast."

Bill writes: "Today, the United States finally is beginning to realize that its attempts to isolate and demonize Iran have failed miserably." The scholar concludes: "U.S. policy-makers should pursue the same policy toward Iran that they have developed toward countries such as China. Strategic engagement must replace the current policy of political confrontation. The time is now."

WASHINGTON POST: Three vital questions remained unanswered

The Washington Post's Barton Gellman writes in an analysis that Khatami's approach leaves vital questions to be resolved. He says: "In an extraordinary televised interview after 18 years of unbroken public hostility, Khatami declared solidarity with the 'essence of the American civilization' and expressed regret for the 1979 hostage-taking that began Iran's Islamic revolution."

Gellman says: "Three vital questions, all fiercely debated in recent weeks by specialists in and out of the administration, remained unanswered by the interview with correspondent Christiane Amanpour, which was conducted in Farsi. Officials said they have no consensus yet on the extent of Khatami's apparent struggle with the fundamentalist clerics who have led Iran since the Shah of Iran, on who is winning the struggle, or on what Khatami's motives may be for what nearly every analyst described as a remarkable overture to the United States."

The writer says: "The most critical disagreement among Clinton's advisers is whether Khatami intended his interview as a genuine overture to the United States or a wedge between it and its Western allies. Some officials said they suspected it to be a form of rhetorical judo, aimed to project an air of moderation that would aggravate differences of view between the United States and the European Union."

SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER: A test launch would indicate that the missiles are close to being fielded

And in the San Francisco Examiner, Eric Rosenberg reports that, once again, the more things change, the more they stay the same. He says that Alireza Jafarzadeh, of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an opposition group, says Iran has just tested a new long-range missile. Jafarzadeh said yesterday that his information was inconclusive about whether the weapon was actually launched or whether it was fired when locked to the ground. Rosenberg says in an analysis: "A test launch would indicate that the missiles are close to being fielded, while a ground test would typically be used to assess the missile engine and overall structure before an actual launch can be conducted."

The writer says: " In years past, the resistance group has accurately reported weapons developments in Iran.

READERS DIGEST: Tests sent tremors through western intelligence agencies

The information parallels published reports last month. Middle East expert Kenneth Timmerman wrote in Readers Digest that U.S. spy satellites first spotted tell-tale signs of the tests - rocket plumes at a secret facility - in August. Timmerman said the tests thus far have been conducted on the ground and that they "sent tremors through western intelligence agencies." The missile allegation comes as the Iranian president, who was elected in May, has called for a dialogue with the "great American people."