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Hawks in Iran seek dialogue with U.S.?

By Atul Aneja

MANAMA (BAHRAIN) AUG. 28. As the chances of a U.S. military attack on Iraq increase, hardliners in neighbouring Iran appear to be making a fresh attempt to reach out to Washington. According to the pan-Arab daily Ashraq al-Awsat, Iran's former Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Velayati has convinced Iran's conservative supreme leader, Ayatollah Khameini, of the need to initiate a fresh dialogue with the United States prior to an attack on Iraq. Consequently, the daily, quoting former Iranian officials said Mr. Velayati had opened a "liaison bureau" in Dubai for the purpose of establishing contacts wit the United States.

The newspaper quoted a former senior Foreign Ministry official close to Mr. Velayati, who said he had been given the responsibility of contacting influential individuals in the United States so that a dialogue between the two countries could begin. The daily pointed out that Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former head of Iran's expediency council — a key decision-making body in Teheran — was keen to open talks with Washington. This effort, however, could not materialise as Washington then was fixated on doing business with Iran's moderate President, Mohammad Khatami. But the equation between the U.S. and Mr. Khatami has changed now that Washington has included Iran in the "axis of evil" and distanced itself from the Iranian President.

By souring its relations with Mr. Khatami, the U.S. has encouraged unity between the conservatives and the moderates in Iran on foreign policy issues, including Iraq. Both Ayatollah Khameini and Mr. Khatami are together in opposing a U.S. strike on Iraq, fearing that Iran could be next in Washington's firing line. Despite the common ground that they have struck on external policy, differences between Iran's conservatives and moderates on domestic issues appear to be widening. In an attack on hardliners, Mr. Khatami at a press conference today said he was determined to push through the reformist Parliament a Bill that would give him more authority, especially on constitutional matters. "I regret to see the absolute right of the President of the Islamic republic to supervise the Constitution being occasionally denied," he said.

Mr. Khatami's remarks assume importance as he believes that the banning of several newspapers and the jailing of 33 members of the Iran Freedom Movement (IFM) by Iran's conservative judiciary is unconstitutional.

So far, 83 Iranian publications, including 23 dailies, have been banned in the last two years. This includes the suspension of Norouz, run by Mr. Khatami's brother, Mohammad Reza.

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