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Wednesday, 4 December, 2002, 00:12 GMT
Iranian conservative backs US ties
Veiled women in Tehran
Larijani said Iran should be more brave in its foreign policy
A prominent Iranian conservative official has criticised the country's foreign policy, saying that opportunities for restoring ties with the United States have been missed.

Anti-US protesters burn a US flag in Tehran
Larijani said that the severing of Iran-US relations had "disadvantages"
In comments in the Iranian press, Muhammad-Javad Larijani, deputy chief of the judiciary's international affairs department, said he also regretted the 1979 takeover of the US embassy in Tehran, and the religious decree calling for the death of British author Salman Rushdie.

He added that Iran should not be afraid to express opinions over recent events in the Middle East - such as the prospect of war in Iraq - which may divert from the position of other Arab countries in the region.

"We should have plans in our foreign policy and execute our plans bravely," he was quoted by French news agency AFP as saying.

"I believe that we should take risks over Iraq and the Persian Gulf."

Interests harmed

BBC Iranian affairs analyst Baqer Moin says that Mr Larijani's remarks mark a dramatic departure from positions held by the conservative Iranian establishment on the country's relationship with the US.

Iranian reformist Abbas Abdi at his trial on Tuesday
Abdi and his colleagues conducted surveys on Iranian attitudes to the US
The 1979 takeover of Tehran's US embassy by radical Islamic students, in which the embassy's staff members were held hostage for more than a year, led to a severing of relations between the US and Iran.

Mr Larijani said there had been "disadvantages" to Iran over the ending of the relations.

"Attacks and protests by students against an embassy are a natural act across the world," he said.

"But when the government joined them, the incidents that followed were hasty decisions which harmed our interests."

He referred to a secret visit in 1986 to Iran by the former US national security advisor Robert McFarlane, during which Iran had, he said, been given "a good opportunity to positively respond to this move by the United States, because the US wanted to establish ties with Iran", which they had not pursued.

Image damaged

Iran's controversial death sentence on Mr Rushdie, imposed by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had piled further damage on the country's image, Mr Larijani said.

"The imam's fatwa was reflected in the world in a way which created a bad image of our system," he said.

"Imam Khomeini said that 'as a cleric, I have expressed my opinion about Salman Rushdie and his books, it is up to the government of Iran to follow the nation's interest.'

"My understanding of the Imam's remarks was that we should announce to the world that we have no intention of ordering the killing or harming of Rushdie."

Mr Larijani's comments came as three Iranian reformists went on trial accused of gathering and selling information to foreign powers.

The three men, including prominent reformist Abbas Abdi, were directors of an opinion poll centre which carried out surveys of Iranian attitudes to the United States.

One reported that about three-quarters of those questioned were in favour of opening talks with the US on resuming relations.

See also:

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