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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

U.S. May Reopen Relations With Iran

Aired May 12, 2003 - 19:11   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Want to talk a little bit about some overseas news. The phrase U.S.-Iranian relations seems often a contradiction. For nearly a quarter century now, there have really been none. But now there is word of secret talks, a sign, some speculate, that the long silence between the U.S. and a member of the so-called axis of evil could be breaking. National security correspondent David Ensor now has details.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even as Iran's president Muhammad Khatami made an historic visit to Lebanon, Bush administration officials were confirming that a senior U.S. official has met directly, three times already this year, with Iranian officials, and will do so again in days.

JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN AMB. TO U.N.: I cannot go into the details of the talks, but the talks are primary focused on Afghanistan and the situation in Iraq, and our concerns about instability in Iraq.

ENSOR: Presidential envoy Zalman Halazad (ph), who speaks Iran's language, Farsi, has been leading the U.S. delegation. The U.S. wants Iran to stop supporting terrorism by Lebanon-based Hezbollah against Israel. Washington also wants guarantees Iran's fast-moving nuclear energy program is not really about making nuclear weapons, and it wants Iran to stay out of Iraqi politics.

ZARIF: Iran is not interested in imposing its type of government on Iraq.

ENSOR: Tehran is making some of the right noises. It has clear reasons to want to warm up relations with the nation it used to call "the great Satan." One look at the map shows why. Iran is now surrounded by American troops.

SHIREEN HUNTER, CSIS: Definitely I think the Iranians are realizing that they cannot go on as they have, and that the geopolitical and military and all the other contexts has altered dramatically after the Iraq war.

ENSOR: Iran was thrilled to see the Taliban overthrown in Afghanistan, and in Iraq, Saddam Hussein gone too, two of their biggest headaches gone. It is also pleased to see U.S. forces insisting that the anti-clerical Iranian mujahideen in Iraq give up their heavy weapons. Former President Ali Hashemi-Rafsanjani, a bellwether politician, has called for a referendum on reopening diplomatic relations with the U.S. Polls suggest 70 percent in Iran would favor it. But that might be going too far, say U.S. officials.

PHILIP REEKER, STATE DEPT. SPOKESMAN: This is not somehow a new opening of diplomatic relations. This is an opportunity to deal with some practical issues.

ENSOR: A real opening would face serious opposition, analysts say, from conservatives in Iran and in the U.S.

GARY SICK, IRAN EXPERT: Iran has its ayatollahs and we have our ayatollahs, and right now they're in the saddle.

ENSOR (on camera): Still, the series of talks that Halazad (ph) is holding with Iranian officials may be the highest level sustained dialogue between the U.S. and Iran since the fall of the shah. It bears watching.

David Ensor, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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