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Iran treads fine line on terrorism

Khatami
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami was swift to condemn the attacks in New York and Washington.  


By Kasra Naji
CNN

TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Iran is unusually quiet about the international war against terrorism that is taking shape in its region -- another sign that the country may be moving toward joining it, said analysts here.

For a Muslim country, which is on the U.S. State Department's list of states sponsoring terrorism, this stance could be a major change in its international outlook and its policies.

President Mohammad Khatami's swift condemnation of the attacks in the United States has won him and Iran powerful friends.

Reports here say U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has sent a rare direct message to Iran in the days after the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington.

According to Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi, the message "touched on ties between Tehran and Washington."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said he had an encouraging telephone conversation with Khatami on how Iran can join the fight against terrorism.

Fear of attack

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"We did not shout 'Death to America' because we wanted to show our sympathy with the people of the United States" -- Tehran worshipper
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Iran presses for U.N. lead  
 

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was to arrive Monday in Tehran to discuss the matter further.

He will be the highest-ranking British official to visit Iran since the Islamic revolution in the country 22 years ago. He also will be carrying another message from the United States to Iran, according to Powell.

These diplomatic developments have greatly reduced initial fears here that Iran may become a target in the international war against terrorism.

In Tehran, Straw will find that many Iranians want their government to join the international effort.

In the past 10 days, thousands of Iranians twice have braved bans on gatherings and the usual highhandedness of the security forces to hold candlelight vigils for the victims of the U.S. carnage.

Relations between Iran and the Taliban are tense. Tehran has never established diplomatic relations with the Taliban and blames the Taliban for the 1998 killings of nine Iranian diplomats during battles around Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. The Taliban have never claimed responsibility for the deaths.

Restraint from hard-liners

Even the Islamic hard-liners are showing uncharacteristic restraint in their anti-Americanism.

For the second week in a row at Tehran Friday prayers -- a forum for hard-liners --there was none of the almost ritual shouts of "Death to America."

"We did not shout 'Death to America' because we wanted to show our sympathy with the people of the United States," said one worshipper.

"We did not want to give the U.S. any excuse for attacking us," said another.

Hard-liners look to Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for guidance.

He has condemned the attacks in the United States but also has opposed any military action on neighboring Afghanistan.

"We are neither with you nor with the terrorists," said one hard-line newspaper in its editorial responding to President Bush's retort that countries around the world are either with the United States or against it.

Khatami in his meeting Monday with the British foreign secretary will have to tread a careful line between what many Iranians want and what the hard-liners want. The latter would like Iran to stay away from the international effort to fight terrorism.

In his conversation with Blair, Khatami said his concern was that the Afghan people must not become a target or be made to suffer.






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