October 15, 1999
By BARRY SCHWEID
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Clinton administration is renewing an overture to Iran for face-to-face talks “on the basis of equality and mutual respect.”
The goal in talking to Iran would be to encourage Iran to support Mideast peacemaking, stop supporting terrorism and halt the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk said Thursday in a speech to the Asia Society.
Similar overtures have been made by President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. “Unfortunately,” Indyk said, “the Iranian government’s response to this overture has been, for the most part, hidebound and unimaginative.”
And yet, the State Department official said, the administration has streamlined U.S. visa policies and supported academic and athletic exchanges with Iran while Iran has opened its doors to American wrestlers, scholars, graduate students and museum officers.
Indyk also welcomed a statement this week by a high Iranian official that the safety of Americans and other tourists in Iran must be safeguarded.
In a gesture, Indyk said the Mujahedin-e Khalq, a group that claimed responsibility for the assassination of Iran’s deputy chief of staff and the slaying of two high-ranking members of the Iranian government, was redesignated last week by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization. The National Council of Resistance, an alias of the group, was listed for the first time, he said.
This means contributions to the group are illegal.
“Iran is also a victim of terrorism,” Indyk said. “We condemn these acts as we condemn all acts of terrorism.”
But, he said, Iran continues to support groups that use terrorism, even though senior Iranian officials have denounced attacks on innocent people, and Iran continues efforts to develop ballistic missiles, causing the United States to oppose investment in Iran’s petroleum sector.
With many in the Arab world looking toward a future of peace with Israel, Indyk asked, “what business is it of Iran to encourage terrorist activity,” and “why is Iran still fomenting trouble in Jordan and giving safe haven to Egyptian extremists.”
U.S. sanctions against Iran can be changed through “a parallel process,” he said, not as a precondition to talks, as Tehran insists, he said.
“We should move beyond the stage of gestures and symbols,” Indyk said. “Indeed, it is time for the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Iran to engage each other as two great nations — face-to-face and on the basis of equality and mutual respect,” he said.