Khatami's overture disappoints U.S. officials
January 7, 1998
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Web posted at: 10:29 p.m. EST (0329 GMT)
In this story:
From White House Correspondent Wolf Blitzer
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- From President Clinton on down, top U.S.
officials were disappointed that Iranian President Mohammed Khatami stopped short of calling for a direct dialogue with
the U.S. government.
Instead, Khatami spoke only of opening a dialogue with the
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"Right now, I recommend the exchange of professors, writers,
scholars, artists, journalists and tourists," Khatami told
CNN's Christiane Amanpour Wednesday in a rare interview.
But that's what the relatively moderate Khatami has been
saying for weeks, and his words are at odds with those of
Iran's more militant supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali
It is Khamenei who controls Iran's military and foreign
policy, and it is Khamenei who opposes extending an olive
branch to the United States -- an olive branch President
Clinton says he would like to accept.
"Do I hope that there will be some conditions under which
this dialogue can resume?" Clinton says. "I certainly do."
While top U.S. intelligence analysts believe Khatami is
serious about opening a new chapter in U.S.-Iranian
relations, they are concerned about his power struggle with
more militant, anti-Western clerics loyal to Khamenei.
Actions, not words
The U.S. is concerned about Iran's military buildup
And they say they do not believe that Iran has stopped
supporting terrorism, stopped developing weapons of mass
destruction or stopped undermining the Israeli-Palestinian
"We will be in a position to judge what is significant based
on actions, not words," says State Department spokesman James
Rubin. "But words often are the precursor to actions, and so
it will be a combination."
Nor can Khatami's soothing words defuse tensions between the
U.S. and France, Russia and other allies who, Washington
says, are selling high-tech energy and missile-related
equipment to Iran. In fact, the White House insists it's
ready to jeopardize those alliances by imposing economic
sanctions on those who do business with Iran.
"It's worth the cost to stand against terrorism and weapons
of mass destruction and those who would try to violate the
process that might bring peace to the Middle East, of
course," White House press secretary Mike McCurry said.
Iran's military buildup -- which includes a long-range
ballistic missile system -- is of particular concern.
"They are not as far along on the nuke front," said U.S. Sen.
John McCain, an Arizona Republican. "I don't know that it is
that important when you have chemical or biological weapons
that could wipe out hundreds of thousands of people. For
example, one missile launch on Israel that could be ... could
have devastating consequences."
Iran may need investors
Rubin said that while the United States has concerns it would
like to address with Iran in any dialogue, "At the same time,
we would expect Iran to raise issues of concern to it."
Some analysts say Iran has good reason to end its two decades
"The Iranians themselves are saying they need $90 billion in
fresh investment from the outside world to keep from becoming
a net oil importer in the next 10 years," said Kenneth
Timmerman, publisher of The Iran Brief. "That's really
dramatic, and that is what I think has prompted Mr. Khatami
to make this overture to the U.S. They need the U.S. now."
White House officials still hope for a high-level,
government-to-government dialogue, and they are discouraging
private American citizens from engaging in their own contacts
with Iran. From the U.S. standpoint, the ball remains in