A small opening to Iran

Sanctions remain: We will take their caviar, not their oil, while disputes remain unresolved.

March 25, 2000

IT WAS a modest opening to Iran that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced last week.

Earlier, President Clinton renewed sanctions prohibiting U.S. citizens from investing in Iran's oil industry or selling it vital production equipment. But now it is legal for Americans to import carpets, caviar and pistachio nuts from Iran.

The truth is, Iranian carpets have already been seen in the stores. The new policies will do nothing to bring down the price of gasoline, whatever they do to the price of pistachio nuts.

Appreciating the liberalizing tide coursing through Iranian life, the administration is making small gestures in a positive direction.

It does not relinquish the accusation that Tehran supports terrorism and suppresses religious minorities.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Albright announced the intention to resolve remaining claims arising from the revolution of two decades ago.

She acknowledged Iranian complaints against the United States and reiterated hers against the regime of the mullahs. Iran's first official reaction was mildly positive, intending to import U.S. grain and medicine. That's a healthy start.

One reason for applauding this small initiative is that economic sanctions rarely work as intended and are never meant to be permanent. Another is that better relations would help stabilize the region, isolate the current regime of Iraq, deter weapons proliferation and curtail support for terrorism.

But so long as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei controls Iran's policies and finds usefulness in demonizing Washington, relations will remain tense. That should not be Washington's doing, which was the point Mrs. Albright effectively made.

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