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Office of Research
Issue Focus
Foreign Media Reaction

March 20, 2000


Secretary Albright's speech Friday outlining the U.S. desire to end two decades of hostility with Iran was widely hailed in the Middle East and Europe as a "breakthrough" development in bilateral relations. Most judged that while the policy "change" does send "a positive" signal to Iran's reformists following their landslide parliamentary victory last month, it is also in "America's strategic interests" to adopt "a more positive attitude toward Iran," given the rising price of oil, widespread sanctions fatigue and the perceived failure of "dual containment." Most deemed, though, that the fact that Washington had chosen to ease sanctions on non-oil exports while renewing the oil sanctions underscored the fact that "improved U.S.-Iran relations will not come overnight." Pundits noted that Secretary Albright "has offered Tehran peace terms that are close to those the Iranian 'reformers' proposed earlier" and that "the ball is now in Tehran's court." A majority judged though that the U.S. had not abandoned its "caution" toward Tehran in light of Iran's role in supporting international terrorism, its interest in weapons of mass destruction and its opposition to the Middle East peace process. The "road map" to the normalization of relations "contains more speed bumps than green lights," an Italian paper opined. While there has been little editorial comment to date in Tehran, a highly critical piece in the official Tehran Times contended that Albright's policy speech contained "little realism" since it did not "officially apologize" for intervention into "Iran's internal affairs." These were salient points:

THE VIEW FROM EUROPE: In major European capitals, especially in Britain and France, the U.S. policy "shift" was seen as an "admission" that "overall sanctions policy" and "dual containment" have "not worked." Some charged that U.S. oil and engineering firms, which have been excluded from participating in the rebuilding of Iran's oil industry, "advocated" the lifting of the ban on the import of Iranian luxury items as a precursor to requesting the lifting of the oil embargo. Most determined that the U.S.' "gourmet diplomacy" had sent the right signal to Iran's reformists following their landslide parliamentary victory last month. But an Italian paper cautioned that "the most serious mistake" that Washington could make now "would be that of trying, one more time, to influence the situation directly."

A NEW MIDDLE EAST MAP?: Arab writers cast a wary eye toward a "warming" between Washington and Tehran, judging that for good or bad, Washington had given tacit recognition to "Iran's pivotal role in the region" and that the Arabs should therefore follow these developments closely. An Egyptian paper expressed alarm at Iran's "ambitions" in the Persian Gulf and its opposition to the Middle East peace process and asked, "Will it continue this under the new American initiative?" A Bahraini publication wondered whether "Iran is heading towards a historic triumph of her interests" in the region, given possible "radical changes" in "the future of the oil industry, the future of Iraq and the security of the Gulf, as well as peace with Israel and the widening of commercial exchange." Elsewhere, a conservative Canadian newspaper posited that a "rekindling of American interest" in Tehran "might serve as a talisman to ward off the encroachments of the Taliban in the East and the possible reawakening of Iraq if oil sanctions are lifted." The paper, suggesting that India might be "a useful broker in this regard," wondered whether "Iran will be quietly discussed" when President Clinton visits India.

EDITOR: Gail Hamer Burke

This survey is based on 22 reports from 15 countries, March 18-20. Editorial excerpts are grouped by region; editorials from each country are listed from the most recent date.


IRAN: "Little Realism In Albright's Statement"

Aside from relating official reaction to the speech, there has been little editorial comment to date, with the exception of a highly critical piece by Abbas Salimi Namin in the official Tehran Times (3/18). It contended that "Albright's statement could create a hope that the United States has accepted the reality 20 years after the Islamic Revolution which has brought about Iran's independence. But regretfully one should confess that little realism is observed in the statement of the U.S. secretary of state. Economic experts in Tehran consider Albright's statement an immature measure by Washington not to remain behind Europe in its economic ties with Iran. Although Albright admits that Washington was involved in the overthrow of the legal government of Mohammad Mosaddeq, she is not ready to officially apologize for the intervention. By a brief sentence, she also prefers to skip what happened to Iran during the Shah's dictatorship.... The United States...does not want to give up its intervention in the domestic, military and regional policies of Iran.... If ties are to be resumed between Iran and the United States, they will not be based on American intervention in our internal affairs."


ISRAEL: "Israeli Officials Blast U.S. Attempt To Woo Iran"

Diplomatic correspondent Danna Harman wrote in a front-page report in the independent Jerusalem Post (3/20): "Senior Israeli officials yesterday sharply criticized the U.S.' more positive attitude toward Iran, saying it will succeed only in encouraging a government opposed to the peace process and keeping a real democratic revolution in Iran at bay."

BAHRAIN: "Terrorism Will Determine The Extent Of The Rapprochement"

Semi-independent Akhbar Al-Khalij published this view (3/20) by Musa Saeed: "The remarks of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright regarding Iran have proven that American rigidity toward countries of the world is capable of changing in a moment to suit America's strategic interests. However, the cornerstone of American-Iranian relations will no doubt remain the retention of Iran on the list of terrorist countries. This issue will determine the extent of rapprochement between the two countries."

"Iran Heading Towards A Historic Triumph Of Her Interests"

Semi-independent Al-Ayam had this comment (3/20) by Ahmed Al-Busta: "The tacit apology that Washington recently offered to Iran reflects the beginning of rapprochement between the two countries and is tantamount to a revolution in relations, to the extent of sincerely recognizing Iran's pivotal role in the region and for its stability. This tacit apology is indicative of radical changes in the region, with implications for its principal issues such as the future of the oil industry, the future of Iraq and the security of the Gulf, as well as peace with Israel and the widening of commercial exchange. Iran is heading toward a historic triumph for her interests, and if an official dialogue takes place between Tehran and Washington, mutual interests will be at the top of the priority list."

EGYPT: "Iran Still Opposes The Peace Process"

Samir Ragab, editor-in-chief of pro-government Al Gomhouriya, wrote (3/19): "The result of the U.S.-Iranian rapprochement is expected.... Iran's ambitions in the Arab Gulf are obvious....

They continue to occupy Arab Gulf territories and persistently reject all peace calls. What will be the UAE reaction to a friend and ally seeking reconciliation with the occupant of their land? Some Gulf countries believe they should strengthen relations with Iran.... Will this not result in a major crack in the wall of this entity [the Gulf]? Despite its relationship with Israel in sensitive fields, Iran opposes the peace process. Will it continue this under the new American initiative?.... Reality will clarify the situation. We oppose the strangulation of nations by economic sanctions, and thus, we support any breakthrough in this respect. However, we continue to care for our Arab Gulf brothers."

LEBANON: "Washington And Tehran"

An editorial by Rafiq Khuri in centrist Al-Anwar held (3/18): "Is the status of relations between Washington and Tehran really starting to change?... Did the United States acknowledge the failure of its dual containment policy for Iraq and Iran?... Secretary Albright's announcement was not normal, although it was expected.... Iran was and will always continue to be an important country for the United States whatever its beliefs are. Some of the points that the United States insisted upon in order to enhance its relations with Iran were actually Iranian demands. This is why we believe that the United States (not Iran) was the one which offered concessions."

"Carpets And Caviar"

An editorial by Sihar Ba'asiri in moderate An-Nahar maintained (3/18): "Secretary Albright's speech on Iran can be characterized as a complete transformation in the American approach toward this Islamic country. The United States not only opened its markets for Iranian goods, it acknowledged that its policy toward Iran was wrong, and admitted that Iran's role in the region is pivotal.... The Iranian response will not be as revolutionary as the U.S. approach, but there is no doubt that the path towards reconciliation started..... Albright's speech will be the basis for a new scene in the region."

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: "Relaxation Advocated By U.S. Oil, Engineering Industries"

The Dubai-based, English-language Gulf News held (3/19): "The ending of the U.S. sanctions against limited categories of luxury exports from Iran is a clear admission that the overall sanctions policy has not worked.... The sanctions had no great effect on the Iranian economy, and their main effect was to exclude U.S. companies from participating in the rebuilding of Iran's oil industry. This relaxation should be seen as a first step toward complete abandonment, which is being actively advocated by oil and engineering companies in Washington.... The United States also should stop its opposition to defining the territorial waters of the Caspian Sea, simply as a way of stopping the Iranians from obtaining clear rights and thereby halting exploration and production in disputed areas. Twenty years of policy need to be reversed and a general mindset changed."

"New Map Of The Middle East?"

Dubai-based, business-oriented Al-Bayan opined (3/19): "The U.S.-Iranian dialogue, the peace tracks with Israel, and the regional changes of position dictate that all Arabs understand what is happening around them in order to deal better with any changes, so they will not be the losers as they have been at most political crossroads of the 20th century.... These signals...may be part of the U.S. regional and global strategy aimed at drawing new maps of the Middle East.... However this should impel Arab decisionmakers to realize what is going on around and behind them, to restore their solidarity, and to build a fortress capable of defending the destiny and interests of all Arabs."


BRITAIN: "Ties With Iran"

According to an editorial in the independent Financial Times (3/20): "Last week's move by Washington to ease sanctions on Iran was long overdue...a welcome development that will bolster the reform movement led by President Khatami. But bolder steps will be required before Iran and the United States can put their turbulent past relationship behind them.... Both Tehran and Washington are eager to open a new page in relations. A resumption of ties is essential for the security of the Gulf, the stability of oil policy and the continued isolation of Iraq.... In spite of his supporters' recent electoral success, Mr. Khatami needs to demonstrate that his reform path can end Iran's international isolation. The U.S. gesture will help, but Washington can still afford to be braver."

"U.S. Makes Up"

The centrist Independent remarked (3/19): "The shift in policy to Iran, announced on Friday by Secretary Albright, encompassed much more than the ending of sanctions on carpets and caviar that made the headlines, more even than a desire to settle outstanding financial and legal claims and to 'put this issue behind us once and for all.' It amounted to the de facto end of a 20-year policy of 'isolation and containment' and an invitation to Iran to step into its role as a regional power. Full normalization of U.S. relations with Iran is not around the corner, but it is considerably closer than it was this time last week."

FRANCE: "Caviar Diplomacy"

Jean-Jacques Mevel contended in right-of-center Le Figaro (3/18): "Americans have difficulty in indulging their sins.... While Cuban cigars are still forbidden, Iranian caviar will soon make its comeback.... Could this be a gesture toward the Yuppies of the new economy? Not at all! Washington explains that it is part of a gesture to help the Iranian cottage industry.... It is also an outstretched hand toward the Iranian reformists...while remaining cautious.... This ambivalence can be perceived in Washington's gesture. With an apology for past errors and a sign that it could be the end for Iranian frozen assets, the warming is only minimal because the road to Iranian oil has once again and for the fifth time been barred."

"Washington's Helping Hand Toward Reformists"

Right-of-center Les Echos judged (3/20): "Iran was receptive to Washington's 'mea culpa'...more than to the limited lifting of the economic embargo.... Because the hardest still remains to be done. For Tehran, resuming a dialogue with Washington is conditioned on the lifting of the oil embargo.... While the 'sentimental' impact of Washington's apology must be noted, Washington's gesture is in itself significant. The American administration appears ready to turn a page and to support the political signs of openness made by the Iranian reformists, which is probably the best way to isolate the conservatives."

GERMANY: "Two Arch Enemies Slowly Narrow Views"

Christiane Hoffmann noted in right-of-center Frankfurter Allgemeine (3/20): "With the partial lifting of trade sanctions on Iran last Friday, the United States has made a first step to improve relations between the two countries which have been seriously strained for more than 20 years. But a breakthrough between Washington and Tehran is not imminent.... The steps that were announced are a gesture toward Tehran which bolsters the case of the advocates of reform in the domestic [Iranian] controversy."

"Gourmet Diplomacy"

Rudolph Chimelli penned this editorial in centrist Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich (3/18): "Whether this 'significant gesture,' i.e., whether Americans will have a chance to eat Iranian pistachio nuts, will have a positive effect on U.S.-Iranian relations will also depend on how long the boycott will be extended to the main products. This means that the Iranians still have no access to advanced technology and capital from the United States to modernize their time-honored oil industry.... The gesture is certainly important for ex-president Rafsanjani, since he and his family are the biggest pistachio nut producers and merchants in the Iranian republic. The reformers surrounding his successor, Khatami, whom Washington plans to back with its move, do not consider Rafsanjani one of theirs. But sportsmen [sic] from the United States and Iran already contributed to their share of reconciliation. Now it is the hour of gourmet diplomacy."

ITALY: "Cautious Thaw Between America And Iran"

Andrea di Robilant commented from Washington in centrist, influential La Stampa (3/18): "Opening the door to caviar, pistachios and Iranian rugs. This is how yesterday, 20 years after the hostage crisis, the cautious thaw began between Washington and Tehran, sought by the Clinton administration in order to encourage the reforms of President Khatami. And a first constructive response arrived from Tehran immediately afterwards: a promise to open the doors to grain and medicines from the United States."

"Washington Bets On The New Iran"

Alberto Negri wrote in leading, business Il Sole-24 Ore (3/18): "Following the lifting of the U.S. embargo on rugs, pistachios and caviar from Iran....U.S. oil majors will make their voice heard even stronger in order to obtain the lifting of oil sanctions as well. The U.S. opening to Iran has a considerable political and economic meaning..... The United States has admitted making mistakes towards Iran in the past.... The risk for Washington is that the Americans may be wrong again.... The most serious mistake would be that of trying, one more time, to influence the situation directly, a move that is to be avoided in order not to see again American flags burned and to hear angry slogans against the Great Satan coming from the Gulf."

AUSTRIA: "Albright's Words"

Conservative Die Presse filed this report (3/18): "Albright in no way apologized for the U.S. interference in Iranian domestic policy, but she admitted that Washington played a key role in leftist Prime Minister Mossadegh's 1953. Also, the American support of Saddam Hussein's regime during the Iraqi-Iranian war in the 1980's had been 'short-sighted.' Albright emphasized that the United States was willing to help eliminate the 'wall of mistrust' between the two countries.... Albright, however, did not disassociate herself from accusations that Iran supports international terrorism and is working on the production of...weapons of mass destruction. Only if this policy changes will complete normalization of the relations and the lifting of the sanctions against Iran be possible, said Albright. Iran welcomed the end of the import ban for carpets and food items, criticizing, however, the maintenance of the sanctions on the oil sector. This decision shows a lack of honesty of the U.S. government, according to the foreign ministry of Iran."

RUSSIA: "U.S. Proposes Peace"

Sergei Guly pointed out in reformist Noviye Izvestiya (3/18): "A month after the vote in Iran, the Americans have finally let it be known how they feel about its winners. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has offered Tehran peace terms that are close to those the Iranian 'reformers' proposed earlier.... A breakthrough in an unexpected and somewhat exotic area like

Iran may help the vice president (in the presidential race)."

SWEDEN: "U.S. Apologizes To Iran"

Independent, liberal Dagens Nyheter ran this piece (3/18): "Easing of sanctions for Iranian exports and a straightforward U.S. admission of an improper superpower arrogance against Iran were what Secretary Albright...offered to Iran.... This initiative might mean the end to two decades of cold war between the two countries.... Albright made it quite clear that President Khatami's reform policy is the main reason for the easing of the U.S. sanctions. It must be regarded as very unusual for a superpower to exercise such self-criticism, as was offered by Secretary Albright."

TURKEY: "Can Iran Be Turkey's Alternative?"

Ferai Tinc had this to say in mass-appeal Milliyet (3/20): Albright's speech is the beginning of a long journey regarding U.S.-Iranian rapprochement. The normalization between Iran and the United States, of course, raises some questions: What does this mean for Turkey? Can Iran be an alternative to Turkey? The latter especially concerns the Baku-Ceyhan project. Despite some companies' argument that the Persian route might be cheaper than Ceyhan, it cannot be an alternative because the Persian route only makes sense from an economic perspective. However, strategic factors are playing a major role in the decision-making for the energy routes.... The normalization of U.S.-Iran relations can only help toward better relationships for Turkey--in the sense of better cooperation, not Turkey-Iran competition."


CANADA: "Tehran's Turn"

The conservative National Post (3/18) observed: "From Tehran's point of view, the rekindling of American interest in the area might serve as a talisman to ward off the encroachments of the Taliban in the East and the possible reawakening of Iraq if oil sanctions are lifted. A useful broker in this regard might be India, which has recently begun to focus on forming closer ties with the Islamic Republic for precisely the same reasons as Washington. U.S. President Bill Clinton is visiting India in less than two weeks: Will Iran be quietly discussed? Improved U.S.-Iran relations will not come overnight; it may take a decade for the two foes to shake hands, for the 'road map' contains more speed bumps than green lights.... Before Washington proceeds further, therefore, Iran must give something concrete in return. The ball is now in Tehran's court."


For more information, please contact:

U.S. Department of State

Office of Research

Telephone: (202) 619-6511


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