October 14, 1999
WASHINGTON, Oct 14 (Reuters) – The United States renewed its offer of unconditional dialogue with the Iranian government on Thursday but said it could not approve U.S. investments or international loans until Iran makes some policy changes.
In what looked like a goodwill gesture, Washington also announced a crackdown on the activities in the United States of the main Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq.
Martin Indyk, the State Department official responsible for the Near East, made the appeal for dialogue at the Asia Society, the same forum at which Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made a landmark speech on Iran in June of last year.
“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. When the government of Iran is ready to engage, we will be too,” said Indyk, an assistant secretary of state.
Albright offered to explore new confidence-building steps with Iran, ultimately aiming for normal relations. Indyk repeated that offer, but with evident frustration that the attempts of the past 18 months appear to have fallen on deaf ears in Tehran, at least among Iranian hardliners.
“Unfortunately the Iranian government’s response to this overture has been, for the most past, hide-bound and unimaginative, insisting that the U.S. must first take a number of unilateral steps” as a precondition for dialogue, he said.
Iran and the United States have not had diplomatic relations since the crisis over the U.S. diplomats held hostage in Tehran after the Islamic revolution of 1979.
The U.S. position is that U.S. and Iranian officials should sit down and bring up whatever concerns them.
The U.S. side would want to talk about Iran’s opposition to Arab-Israeli peace talks, its support for violent organisations in the Middle East, its ballistic missile programme and U.S. suspicions that it seeks nuclear weapons.
Iran is demanding the United States end economic sanctions, stop preventing Caspian oil and gas export pipelines from crossing Iran and lift a freeze on Iranian assets.
“It would be much more beneficial to both countries if we had a chance to actually sit down and work out arrangements that could meet each other’s concerns,” Indyk said.
He added: “We will continue to oppose investment in the development of Iran’s energy sector, bilateral debt rescheduling, Paris Club debt treatment for Iran and the extension of favourable credit terms by Iran’s principal foreign creditors. We will also continue to oppose loans to Iran by the international financial institutions.
“But we stand ready to change all of these policies as soon as Iran changes its practices in our areas of concern.”
The one practical concession Indyk made to Iran was to announce new restrictions on the Iranian opposition in exile, one of Tehran’s longstanding grievances against Washington.
He said the State Department had added the National Council of Resistance (NCR) as an alias for the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a group which has assassinated Iranian officials.
The NCR, which has offices in downtown Washington, has acted as the civilian front for the MEK and was not previously subject to restrictions imposed on the Mujahedin.
Indyk said this meant the United States will no longer issue visas to NRC officials, that it cannot raise funds in the United States and U.S. banks will block its assets.
He also praised internal changes in Iran, which has seen gradual political liberalisation since the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989, which accelerated after the election of President Mohammad Khatami in 1997.
Indyk said recent municipal elections were “remarkable for their openness and the level of participation,” that the country had a vigorous and assertive press and that Iranian leaders had made worthy statements on human rights.