Iranians seek renewal of ties to West, region Moderates show signs of upper hand

May 28, 1991|By Youssef M. Ibrahim | Youssef M. Ibrahim,New York Times News Service

ISFAHAN, Iran -- President Hashemi Rafsanjani and three other senior officials called yesterday for vastly increased economic and political cooperation with the West and for closer ties with Iran's Persian Gulf neighbors.

Addressing 250 Western, Asian and Arab oil officials in the largest international conference held in Iran since the Islamic revolution in 1979, the Iranian leaders left little doubt that they were reorienting their diplomacy away from the confrontational policies of the last decade.

The leaders -- Mr. Rafsanjani, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, Oil Minister Gholamreva Agazadeh, and Finance Minister Mohsen Noorbakhsh -- appeared to confirm that they have the upper hand in the conflict with hard-liners and religious fundamentalists.

The debate focuses on issues such as whether Iran should look again to world financial markets for economic-development funds and whether it can resume normal relations with governments in the region that were viewed in the 1980s as reactionaries and enemies of Islam.

"From a global perspective, a new order is gradually superseding in which economic considerations overshadow political priorities," Mr. Velayati told the conferees, including scores of American, British, French, and other Western oil company officials, as well as several Arab oil ministers.

Addressing the inaugural session of the conference, the Iranian leaders went further than ever in saying that they now believe that the economic well-being of Iran and of other oil-producing countries is tied to stable and moderate oil prices and broad cooperation between consumers and producers of oil.

The Iranian officials said that in the aftermath of the crushing defeat of Iraq by the United States-led forces in the gulf, they felt that Iran had many interests in common with the Arab monarchies and sheikdoms that took part in the war. Iraq had no representative here.

When asked if cooperation with the United States could grow despite the plight of U.S. hostages held by pro-Iranian Shiite militias in Lebanon, the Iranian officials essentially restated their view that the release of the hostages must be part of a general agreement that includes settling debts that Iran says it is owed by the United States.

Iranian officials say the United States may owe Iran as much as $10 billion, which has been frozen since 1979. The U.S. position has been that improved relations with Iran cannot go ahead without the release of the hostages.

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