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Tuesday, 5 June, 2001, 20:59 GMT 21:59 UK
Analysis: West's relations with Iran
Poster of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami
Khatami has been trying to make changes in Iran
By Middle East analyst Roger Hardy

The Iranian presidential election was almost entirely focused on domestic issues, but the outcome may have an impact on Iran's troubled relations with the West.

There can be no doubt that the landslide victory of reformist cleric Mohammad Khatami four years ago was welcomed in Western capitals, especially in Europe, and - in a more muted way - in the United States.

Women stand under poster of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami
Iran is seen as a 'rogue state' in the US
Many hoped he would pursue detente abroad as well as reform at home.

But four years on, there has been only the slightest of thaws in relations between Tehran and Washington.

Journalist Vahe Petrossian, of the oil and gas newspaper Upstream, said the Bush administration had so far adopted a wait-and-see approach.

US policy

Iranians have been quick to note that there are plenty of former oilmen in the senior ranks of the new US administration - including President Bush himself and his vice-president, Dick Cheney. So will oil and business interests push the policymakers towards closer ties with Tehran?

US President George Bush
Bush: Waiting for the election result
"I think the energy sector in the United States will put a lot of pressure on the administration to loosen up," said Steven Simon, a member of former US president Bill Clinton's National Security Council, who now works for London think-tank, the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

"When Dick Cheney, the current vice-president, was a vice-presidential candidate, he said that he favoured the elimination of sanctions against Iran - and he would make that case to the president.

"He hastened to add that, if the president disagreed, he would obviously march according to his orders."

Dick Cheney's voice is only one of many that President Bush will listen to. From the Pentagon he will be hearing advocates of a tougher line on Iran.

Elaine Sciolino of the New York Times said the hawks were using a variety of arguments.

"You've got the reinvigoration of the term 'rogue state' by this administration - which the Clinton administration actually dropped," she said. "You've got the State Department's annual report on terrorism saying that Iran was the greatest perpetrator of state-sponsored terrorism in the world, because of its support for Hezbollah (the anti-Israeli guerrilla group) in Lebanon.

"National missile defence is one of the cornerstones of Bush's foreign policy - and Bush told the New York Times that the reason we need it is to prevent us being blackmailed by countries like Iran."

'Rogue state' label

There are three charges that US officials in successive administrations have levelled against Iran - that it sponsors terrorism, that it is developing weapons of mass destruction, and that it actively opposes the Middle East peace process.

Tehran recently hosted a conference at which radical Palestinian groups pledged to intensify the intifada - or uprising - against Israel.

"In Washington there is a strong suspicion based on intelligence sources - I believe - that Iran is working to pull together violent elements of the Palestinian and Lebanese resistance to attack Israelis in Israel and in the [Palestinian] territories - not just in Lebanon," said Steven Simon.

"This kind of news doesn't play very well on Capitol Hill and will influence the political calculations of any administration, including this one, when it comes to deciding how to approach Iran."

As for US economic sanctions against Iran, it now looks as if a key piece of legislation, the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) which was expected to lapse in August, will be renewed.

So regardless of Mr Khatami's victory, there is no guarantee Iran will lose its "rogue state" label any time soon.

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01 Jun 01 | Middle East
Iran election: People and policies
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