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Iran: U.S. May Ease Sanctions

There are signs that the United States is moving toward lifting some economic sanctions against Iran. Officials say they want to encourage Iranian moderates to open up a constructive dialogue with the United States. RFE/RL senior correspondent Frank T. Csongos reports.

Washington, 15 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The United States is considering ways to encourage a political dialogue with Iran, including possibly lifting some economic sanctions.

News media reports say the administration of President Bill Clinton plans to announce Friday that it is easing the ban of Iranian exports into the United States. Under this plan, Americans would be able to buy Iranian carpets, caviar, and pistachios.

White House spokesman Joe Lockhart neither confirmed nor denied the reports during a briefing Tuesday. Lockhart told reporters he cannot provide any specifics at this time but said a senior U.S. official will address the sanction subject on Friday.

"Obviously we recognize the positive outcome of the elections in Iran in recent weeks. We are looking and considering ways to encourage a constructive dialogue with Tehran that includes all the issues that we have concern about, particularly terrorism and nonproliferation."

Lockhart was referring to Iranian parliamentary elections in which moderate political figures gained significant strength. U.S. officials who asked not to be identified say any conciliatory action toward Iran is meant to encourage reformers to open up an official dialogue with Washington.

The U.S. Initiative is expected to be unveiled at a meeting in Washington by the American-Iranian Council, a non-government group based in Princeton, in the eastern U.S. state of New Jersey. The Iranian ambassador to the United Nations has been invited to attend.

Despite this apparent movement, Clinton extended an executive order Monday banning U.S. involvement in oil development contracts with Iran. Clinton said the action was taken because of concern that Iran is still supporting terrorist groups and is against the Middle East peace process involving Arabs and Israelis.

The oil sanctions are expected to remain on the books.

It is not clear whether the gesture of easing some sanctions would be enough to end the 20-year break in official relations between the two countries. The rupture began when Iran took U.S. hostages during the 1979 Islamic revolution.

In a related action, the World Bank is expected to consider resuming loans to Iranian projects for the first time in seven years.

The Iranian loan issue was discussed by World Bank President James Wolfensohn on Tuesday.

"There is a split of opinion on the (World Bank) board as I think you are all aware. That split of opinion is that the new regime in Iran is one to whom we should reach out and there are others who have a view that the new regime is someone to whom we should not reach out. I am getting pressures from both sides."

Wolfensohn added:

"I do not have the privilege of making the political judgments. I have the responsibility of looking at the issues of poverty and of development. This thing has been dragging on for nearly two years now and the feeling is such that we should bring it to the board."

The proposed bank loans expected to be examined next month involve a sewage and a health-care project.