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Friday, 17 March, 2000, 06:38 GMT
US 'to ease Iran sanctions'
albright
Mrs Albright is expected to announce the new policy
The US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, is expected to announce on Friday the first easing of sanctions on Iran after years of hostility between the two countries.

The US State Department declined to disclose what she will say, but confirmed Mrs Albright will make a "major policy address" to the American-Iranian Council in Washington.

A report in the Friday edition of The Washington Post said that besides lifting a ban on luxury imports such as caviar and carpets, Mrs Albright would also promise to take steps toward returning Iranian assets frozen since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Gesture

After years of hostility between the two countries, this would be Washington's first significant gesture towards Iran.

It follows the recent victory by reformers in parliamentary elections.

Sanctions were first imposed after the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran by student radicals in 1979.

But the United States is maintaining the ban on American investment in Iran's oil and gas industry.

Washington says Iran is still supporting international terrorism and attempting to develop weapons of mass destruction.

President Khatami
President Khatami was bolstered by the election
The partial easing of sanctions and an offer to discuss claims each nation has against the other will be coupled with a renewed proposal for formal talks, said an US official, speaking to Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Conciliatory statements by Iran's reformist President Mohammad Khatami and the result of the parliamentary elections have accelerated moves within the US administration to open talks with Iran.

Response

Some analysts have questioned whether an easing of sanctions would elicit a response or simply amount to a unilateral US concession.


Sanctions could be lifted on pistachio nuts, too
An easing of sanctions also would suggest that US attempts to isolate Iran economically have not succeeded.

Last April, the United States exempted agricultural and medical products from sanctions on Iran and other countries.

"We are looking for ways to respond to changes in Iran, and to advance prospects for a better relationship," James B Foley, a State Department spokesman said.

"It is something that is under internal consideration - how best to respond."
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See also:

14 Mar 00 | Middle East
Iran anger at continued sanctions
14 Mar 00 | Middle East
US maintains Iran oil ban
04 Nov 99 | Middle East
US-Iranian ties: Chronology
18 Feb 00 | Middle East
Analysis: All eyes on Iran
12 Mar 00 | Middle East
Khatami: Shooting will 'unite people'
05 Apr 99 | Middle East
Iran deal defies US sanctions
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