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Iran: Reformist Calls For Resolving Dispute With U.S.

RFE/RL's Persian Service conducted an exclusive interview yesterday with former Tehran Mayor Gholam-Hossein Karbaschi, who heads Iran's second largest reformist party. In the interview, Karbaschi calls for resolving disputes between the United States and Iran.

Prague, 3 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Gholam-Hossein Karbaschi, head of the Iranian party the Executives of Construction, spoke with RFE/RL by phone from Tehran. He said it is not taboo in Iran to talk about U.S.-Iranian relations and suggested many in Iran's reformist camp are ready to do so.

But he said that it is Washington which severed ties and which now must take the first steps toward Iran if the disputes are to be resolved. Karbaschi:

"No, it's never been taboo and as a matter of fact all the specialist commentators have said the situation must be resolved -- but who must resolve it? This is the question. We believe the people who started this situation must solve it. ... The question is: Did we cut relations or did they cut relations? Everyone knows from history that the government of America did this. And all this behavior between the two countries -- did the Islamic Republic start it or did the government of America? If America started it, then America must take the first step. Otherwise, everybody has said that we don't want to be at odds with the rest of the world and draw an iron curtain around ourselves. Now we say that definitely people must think about resolving this matter."

He also said that a first American step toward Iran should be restoring assets confiscated when Washington broke off diplomatic ties.

"The first step toward removing the enmity between the two countries is to return the weapons which Iran purchased and which remain in the United States. That is very clear, and if Iran has holdings and property -- assets -- there, they should be returned, too. And if they are not there, they should tell us why not, and what has happened to them."

The U.S. broke relations with Iran after militants took U.S. embassy staff hostage in 1979 to protest Washington's allowing the deposed shah into the United States for medical treatment. Since the election of relatively moderate Iranian President Mohammad Khatami in 1997, there have been signs both sides may be ready to talk. Khatami has called for greater cultural exchanges, and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has urged developing a road map to better relations.

But the sides remain deadlocked over what to discuss should any dialogue between them eventually begin. Washington has called for Iran to come to the table to discuss all differences, ranging from U.S. charges that Tehran supports terrorism abroad to Iranian demands for lifting of U.S.-imposed sanctions. Khatami's government has said any talks must be conditional on a lifting of all U.S. sanctions imposed since 1979.

Karbaschi, a popular former mayor of Tehran, was released from jail in January after being pardoned by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, of a conviction for graft. He is among the founders of the Executives of Construction, a technocrat group created to back a reformist drive by previous Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani. And he was active in supporting the election of President Khatami three years ago.

The Executives of Construction endorsed Rafsanjani in last month's parliamentary elections, despite the fact that newer waves of reformists regard him as liberal in economic views but socially conservative. The election was swept by Iran's currently leading reformist party, the Islamic Participation Front, headed by Khatami's younger brother Mohamed Reza. The two reformist groups have since been holding talks on cooperating in the new reformist-majority parliament.

(The interview was conducted by the Persian Service's Alireza Taheri. RFE/RL regional specialist William Samii contributed to this article)