- The Washington Times - Monday, September 4, 2000

TEHRAN (AP) Iran's parliament speaker said yesterday that attempts are being made in the United States to lift trade sanctions against Iran, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported after American and Iranian lawmakers met for the first time since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

"It seems that there are efforts under way in the United States for lifting sanctions against Iran," IRNA quoted Mahdi Karrubi as saying after returning from New York, where he and four other Iranian lawmakers attended a meeting of world parliament leaders at the United Nations.

Mr. Karrubi did not provide details, but IRNA said the speaker also met representatives of some American companies who want the sanctions lifted. Mr. Karrubi told state-run Tehran television that he met leaders of American oil companies and discussed the sanctions issue with them.

American companies are barred under the 1996 sanctions law from investing more than $20 million in Iran's oil and gas sector. As a result, U.S. firms have lost billions of dollars in contracts to European competitors.

Sen. Arlen Specter, a Republican from Pennsylvania, Rep. Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican who favors increased dialogue with Tehran, and two other lawmakers, Eliot L. Engel and Gary L. Ackerman, both Democrats from New York, met Mr. Karrubi and four other Iranian lawmakers at a Metropolitan Museum of Art reception sponsored by the American Iranian Council, which seeks improved relations between the two countries.

The pro-reform Hayat-e-Now daily newspaper quoted Mr. Karrubi as criticizing "hostile policies" pursued by the U.S. government and Congress against Iran and as saying the meeting had "not been planned." He acknowledged that at the museum the lawmakers discussed "closer relations" between Tehran and Washington.

Mr. Specter said Thursday that the meeting was "one step removed" from official government-to-government contacts, which were severed after the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979.

Tehran University professor and political analyst Davoud Hermidas Bavand described the meeting as a step in accordance with the national interests of both countries.

Hayat-e-Now quoted Mr. Karrubi as saying 10 U.S. senators signed a letter to Iran's reformist-dominated parliament seeking meetings in Iran, the United States or a third country. The letter was written after the reformist-dominated parliament, or Majlis, was formed in May.

Washington lifted trade sanctions in March relating to certain Iranian luxury goods, including caviar, carpets and pistachios, after reformists won February legislative elections.

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