Illusory opportunity in Iran

Improved relations: Some Iranians want it, but supreme ruler won't have it, just yet.

November 05, 2001

WASHINGTON should improve relations with Iran. But only if that nation wants to, and it cannot decide.

As things stand, the United States is keeping Iran out of the World Trade Organization and accusing it of supporting terrorism. Iran condemns the Sept. 11 events and will rescue U.S. pilots who come down from Afghan air space. But its supreme leader still calls the United States the Great Satan.

A committee of parliament urged President Mohammad Khatami to improve relations with the United States in order to consult on Afghanistan's future. The chief of the judiciary promised to punish anyone who advocates that. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, forbade it as against Iran's interest.

Meanwhile, as Iran's national soccer team moves inexorably toward a place in the 2002 World Cup, youth demonstrate after every match, destroying property and flirting with girls. They want an opening to the world and repudiate the Islamic regime their country has enjoyed since 1979, before many were born.

Iran rudely received the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, who came asking it to let in Afghan refugees. Iran denounces both the Taliban regime and the U.S. campaign against it. The foreign minister warned Washington not to bomb during Ramadan, which never stopped Iran.

Washington broke relations with Tehran in 1980 while revolutionary mobs held 52 Americans hostage. Canadian Foreign Minister John Manley went to Tehran a few days ago to ask its rulers to stop supporting Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad terrorism in Israel. He left empty-handed.

The Iranian police seized 1,000 of some 150,000 satellite dishes in the country to purge Iran of Western thoughts, especially pop music beamed in by dissidents abroad.

A U.S. offer to end sanctions should be put on the table and stay there. But the quid pro quo would have to be an end to Iran's support of terrorism. Ayatollah Khamenei is not ready for that, regardless of whether President Khatami is.

A deal is not around the corner. But the discussion is having a wonderful effect opening up Iran's political life.

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