U.S.-Iran rapprochement needs more time, Iranian leader says Khatami ends NYC visit

both sides bypass chances

September 23, 1998|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

NEW YORK -- Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, wrapping up his first visit to the United States, said yesterday that the time wasn't right yet for the two governments to mend old wounds.

In a rare meeting with Western reporters, Khatami said he welcomed the United States' offer to begin official talks, but that Washington continued to take actions that contrasted sharply with his receptive attitude.

"You see just as we see and sense a change in speech. But we see also their acts such as the allocations of funds by the United States that allow the government to hurt Iran," Khatami said. He apparently was referring to the recent creation of Radio Free Iran, a U.S. government-funded radio station that will broadcast into Iran.

From the U.S. perspective, Iran missed a big chance to begin talking about relations when Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi decided against going to a meeting Monday on Afghanistan-Iranian tensions. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright attended, while Kharrazi sent a deputy.

On another subject, Khatami said his government no longer considered valid the $2.5 million bounty for the assassination of novelist Salman Rushdie.

In 1989, a hard-line Iranian religious foundation, backed by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued the death threat against Rushdie because it considered his novel "The Satanic Verses" blasphemous against Islam.

U.S. officials welcomed Khatami's comments distancing the Iranian government on the Rushdie affair, but said they wanted further clarification.

If the decree "is carried through and rescinded or revoked, that would be a welcome development," said White House spokesman Mike McCurry.

"But again, as what we've said often, actions, as we look at the policies of the government of Iran, speak much louder than words," McCurry said. "And words sometimes come in many different voices when it comes to Iran, and we will be listening carefully in the days ahead."

Khatami was elected by more than two-thirds of Iranian voters, but the nation's two most powerful figures are conservatives.

Pub Date: 9/23/98

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