- The Washington Times - Friday, September 8, 2000

NEW YORK Iranian President Mohammed Khatami said yesterday that he hopes to forge a stronger relationship with Russia that would "marginalize" outside powers in the region where U.S. energy interests are seeking to capitalize on Caspian Sea oil.
The Iranian leader, who met a day earlier with Russian President Vladimir Putin, also promised at a news conference on the margins of the U.N. Millennium Summit not to interfere in the Middle East peace process and to leave the door open to better relations with the United States.
Russia and Iran both oppose plans for a U.S.-backed pipeline that would carry potentially huge deposits of Caspian Sea oil from a terminus in Baku, Azerbaijan, through Georgia and Turkey to a site on the Mediterranean Sea.
Iran argues that it would be far cheaper to ship the oil through existing pipelines in Iran to the Persian Gulf, while Moscow, which has been accused of encouraging insurgencies near the pipeline route in Georgia, favors a route through southern Russia to the Black Sea.
"In the West, people still refuse to understand that the cheapest, fastest route to transfer energy resources from central Asia is through Iran," Mr. Khatami complained at his news conference yesterday.
"Nevertheless, there are objections to it. They want to spend more money to draw pipelines under the Caspian Sea. They want to endanger the ecological system of the Caspian Sea, only to put economic pressure on Iran."
Iran's state news service, IRNA, reported the issue was discussed at the meeting Wednesday with Mr. Putin, where the two leaders agreed to visit each other's capitals and "stressed expansion of ties in the economic, technical and industrial fields."
Asked about that meeting yesterday, Mr. Khatami said, "We share a lot of interests with Russia. We both live in one of the most sensitive areas of the world. I believe the two countries can engage in a viable and strong relationship.
"Russia needs a powerful and stable Iran," Mr. Khatami continued. "A stronger relationship would allow both countries to marginalize external powers that are seeking destructive ends and which do not belong in our region."
Despite that remark, he said, "The detente policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran is open to all countries of the world."
Asked specifically about relations with the United States, Mr. Khatami said Washington should apologize for its role in a 1953 coup in Iran that installed the now-deceased Shah Reza Pahlavi.
"It will be a positive step through this confession," he said. "If the Americans accept to do it, I think it will be a very big step towards removing our misunderstandings."
Dismissing remarks to that effect by Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright in March, he said, "It is not a pure apology. It is about action."
Mr. Khatami commented with great care on the power struggle now raging in Iran, where hard-liners who control the police and judiciary have shut pro-reform newspapers backing the president, silenced the newly elected parliament, and beaten up protesting students in the streets.
"Freedom and security are both important," he said. "You cannot endanger security in the name of freedom and you cannot limit freedom of the people in the name of security. This is a very delicate line. In both camps, you have to have balance and moderation."
He added: "The demand for freedom especially among young people creates certain aspirations that are not in synch with the times. If this breeds hopelessness and despair, it could pave the way for hard-liners and extremists in either camp to come in."
On the search for peace in the Middle East, he said, Iran "will not interfere" in the process, but that what the region needs "is a viable peace" that will be achieved "only when all those involved who have stakes there are able to achieve their rights."
Maneuvering at the U.N. gathering to promote a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians appeared to founder yesterday.
The Associated Press reported that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat rejected a proposal by President Clinton for control of Muslim and Jewish holy sites in East Jerusalem, but Mr. Clinton refused to abandon his effort to bring about a Mideast peace accord.
Although Mr. Arafat's action further dimmed already fading hopes for an agreement, Mr. Clinton directed his senior mediator, Dennis B. Ross, to keep talking to Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.
Still, with no more meetings between Mr. Clinton and the two leaders scheduled he met separately with Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat on Wednesday Mr. Clinton's No. 1 foreign policy goal appeared to be in deep trouble.

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