Says dialogue may resume after US election
By James F. Smith
NEW YORK -- Iran's foreign minister said yesterday his country's relations with the United States are about the worst ever, but he believes the upcoming US presidential election could open avenues for renewed dialogue, even if President Bush is reelected.
At a breakfast with American editors, Kamal Kharrazi said the Bush administration's hostility toward Iran in recent years had created a climate of animosity and mistrust. Twice he cited US support of exiled Iranian opposition groups as evidence of US malice.
Yet even though Bush early in his term labeled Iran part of the "axis of evil" and has stepped up accusations against Iran over its nuclear program and other issues, Kharrazi suggested that a second Bush term would not necessarily mean unending conflict.
"Experience shows that a president who is in office for a second term usually becomes more realistic," Kharrazi said with a smile.
Asked whether he preferred Bush or Democratic challenger John F. Kerry, he replied, "I'm not sure." He said he wanted to wait for the outcome of the vote.
Kharrazi also said that if the approaching elections in Iraq and Afghanistan produce credible, democratically elected leaders, ''that would have a very positive impact in the whole region." He disputed the notion that such governments would probably be against Iran's interests, saying, "Democracy does not necessarily bring pro-US governments."
Iran is sandwiched between Afghanistan and Iraq; a US invasion after Sept. 11, 2001, toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and US forces deposed Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq in 2003. Afghans will vote in a presidential election on Oct. 9, and Iraq's interim government plans an election for a national assembly in January, despite a deadly insurgency that is fighting to destabilize the country and drive out the US military.
Asked to describe the insurgency, Kharrazi said Al Qaeda-linked extremists and remnants of Hussein's Ba'ath Party regime were factors, but "there is also a huge category of ordinary people, Iraqis who have been humiliated by US forces. Their families have been killed or tortured. So they are ready to resist against the Americans."
He said the resistance of ordinary Iraqis will continue to grow "as long as foreign troops are there under US command." The solution, he said, lies in helping the Iraqi government to assume responsibility for security, and putting international forces under United Nations command, a concession that would be anathema to the United States.
A similar logic drives the growth of Islamic extremism globally, Kharrazi said. The American strategy of relying on military muscle to combat extremists has failed, and has merely helped scatter the fundamentalists to Asia and Europe, he said. The real need is "to change the mindset of people. [But"> it will be impossible to change the mindset of people as long as injustice prevails in the Middle East."
Kharazzi repeated Iran's position that it has no intention of developing nuclear weapons. He said Iran does insist on its right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful use.
The International Atomic Energy Agency this month told Iran to stop all operations connected with uranium enrichment or face the prospect of sanctions. The United States has tried unsuccessfully to persuade the IAEA to take a harder line against Iran. The IAEA board will reconsider the matter in November.
Kharrazi did not answer directly when asked what the United States could do to improve relations with Iran, which have never recovered from the Iranian revolution 25 years ago when American hostages were seized from the US embassy in Tehran.
Asked to characterize the current relationship, he said, "I believe it is very bad."
Kharrazi had one suggestion for Washington as a first step toward improved relations: "Just leave us alone."