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The BBC's Mark Devenport reports
"Despite their continued foreign policy differences the United States and Iran share common interests in Afganisthan"
 real 56k

Head of the BBC's Persian Service, Baqr Moin
"It makes it easier for them to be together without being seen to be together"
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Saturday, 16 September, 2000, 00:42 GMT 01:42 UK
US and Iran face to face
Madeleine Albright and Kamal Kharrazi
Another step in improved relations
The United States and Iran have taken part in talks at foreign minister level for the first time since they broke relations more than 20 years ago.


I was very interested in the similarity of our views on the problem of Afghanistan

Madeleine Albright
The American Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, and the Iranian Foreign Minister, Kamal Kharrazi, took part in a meeting at the United Nations in New York to discuss Afghanistan.

Mrs Albright said afterwards that she thought it had been a "useful meeting... this is encouraging".

Mr Kharrazi did not comment to reporters.

Shared dislike

The meeting included representatives from Afghanistan's five closest neighbours as well as Russia and America, and was chaired by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

A US official said Mrs Albright had wanted to attend, not only because of the importance of the Afghanistan issue but also because it would be the first time the United States would have close contact with Iran on a policy issue.

Ayatollah Khomeini
Ayatollah Khomeini denouced America as the 'Great Satan'
Mrs Albright sat on one side of a horseshoe-shaped table, Kamal Kharrazi was about 20 ft away on the other side, and the two did not speak directly.

However Mrs Albright said later: "I was very interested in the similarity of our views on the problem of Afghanistan, the problems of fighting terrorism, narco-trafficking and the various issues there," she said.

The BBC's UN correspondent, Mark Devenport, says that despite their foreign policy differences, the United States and Iran share common interests in Afghanistan and a strong antipathy to the Taleban regime which controls most of the country.

The two countries have had no diplomatic relations since Iranian students occupied the American embassy in Teheran in 1979.

The protracted crisis led to the severing of diplomatic ties and sweeping US sanctions against Iran, with the leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, famously denouncing America as "the Great Satan".

Thaw

It was not until 1997, when the moderate reformist Mohammad Khatami became president, that relations began to improve.

There have been further signs of a thaw in recent weeks.

Last week, Mrs Albright sat in the audience for what she described as a thought-provoking lecture delivered at the UN by Iran's President Khatami.

The following day, President Clinton remained in the UN General Assembly to hear President Khatami speak.

Our correspondent says the Clinton administration wants Teheran to know that, despite the remaining resistance among hardline factions in Iran, Washington is seriously interested in fostering further dialogue.

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See also:

25 Mar 00 | Middle East
Khamenei rejects US overtures
18 Jun 98 | Middle East
US-Iranian ties: chronology
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