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War on Terrorism an Opportunity for US-Iran Relations

(Washington, DC--November 26, 2001) The war on terrorism provides new opportunities for both the United States and Iran to improve relations, according to an expert on Persian Gulf affairs at the National Defense University who spoke at an RFE/RL briefing last week.

Judith Yaphe reviewed each country's diplomatic actions since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and suggested that a policy of "calculated ambiguity" by both the U.S. and Iran may serve to advance the war on terrorism. Concentrating on what both countries have in common, Yaphe said the U.S. could find new avenues to engage Iran, since Iran itself has been a victim of al Qaeda and Taliban terrorism.

While Iran's leaders are united in defense of Iran's national security interests and in projecting its influence as a regional power, Yaphe said, President Khatami is "probing the waters" of U.S. policy in the post-September 11 environment. She suggested that the Iranian government could contribute to the anti-terrorism campaign by sharing information about terrorist groups such as al Qaeda, helping to stop Iraqi oil smuggling and other forms of cooperation with the US on Iraq, as well as cooperation in the Mid-East peace process.

The U.S., for its part, could offer a new set of minimalist demands for the resumption of relations, Yaphe said, and take positive steps such as supporting Iran's loan applications at the IMF and World Bank, supporting Iran's WTO membership application, and ensuring greater transparency in routine military maneuvers in the region. Yaphe also suggested that the U.S. could seek to engage Iran in non-threatening ways, such as joint rescue operations and by broadening academic and cultural exchange programs with Iran.