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Iran: U.S. Seeks Dialogue

The United States says it wants to embark on a dialogue with Iran. State Department spokesman James Rubin says Washington sees some positive signs emerging in Tehran such as a diverse press. He also welcomes a visit to France by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami. However, Rubin says Washington remains concerned about what it sees Iranian support of some terrorist groups. RFE/RL's Frank T. Csongos reports from Washington.

Washington, 29 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. State Department is urging Tehran to enter into a dialogue with Washington and says it welcomes Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's visit to France as a sign of a desire to rejoin the world community.

Spokesman James Rubin said at a press briefing Wednesday there are some positive developments taking place in Iran. He cited a healthy diversity in the Iranian media and an emerging democratic pluralism in Iranian society.

The spokesman said the U.S. hopes that non-governmental contacts between the two countries, such as cultural and sports events, would help promote direct ties with the Iranian leadership.

"One of the aspects of our policy towards Iran is to promote people-to-people dialogue, to promote the civilizational dialogue that President Khatami has called for. Pending the willingness of the Iranian government to have the direct dialogue that we have called for, the media is one way of promoting civilizational dialogue and people-to-people exchanges, cultural exchanges, the kind of activities we have promoted."

Khatami is in France on an official visit. It is the first such visit to France by an Iranian head of state in two decades.

"We welcome Iran's interest in rejoining the community of nations and becoming a responsible member of the international community."

At the same time, Rubin told reporters that the U.S. continues to object to some Iranian government policies. The spokesman said these included what Washington perceives is Iranian support of international terrorism and the arrest of 13 Iranian Jews on espionage charges. Rubin said they are yet to be permitted to see defense lawyers.

Rubin added: "We expect that the international community, including France, is equally concerned about all of these issues and committed to urging Iran to change its policies."

Diplomatic relations between Iran and the United States have been severed since the crisis over American diplomats held hostage in Tehran following the 1979 Islamic revolution.

In an interview published in the Iranian English-language daily Iran News on Wednesday, Rubin proposed unconditional negotiations between Washington and Tehran to forge "more normal" relations.

The U.S. seeks unconditional talks so each side could air its grievances against the other. Tehran says Washington should first unfreeze Iranian assets it is holding since the revolution and lift economic sanctions. The United States says those steps depend on Iranian actions.

Rubin said in the newspaper interview that the purpose of the dialogue is to establish a road map of reciprocal steps each side could take to develop a more normal relationship.