DATE=2/22/2000 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=FUTURE US/IRAN RELATIONS NUMBER=5-45495 BYLINE=NICK SIMEONE DATELINE=WASHINGTON CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: The strong showing by reformist candidates in Iran's just-concluded parliamentary elections is being interpreted as a resounding call for greater freedoms after 20 years of strict Islamic rule. One question being asked is whether the election results could lead to better relations with the United States. V-O-A's Nick Simeone has this report. TEXT: Friday's elections demonstrated that a pressing issue for most Iranian voters is relaxing some of the restrictions of Islamic law and moving toward a society that includes freedoms of speech, dress and perhaps even a getting more in step with the western world. Shirzad Bozorgmehr is the editor of Tehran's English language newspaper "Iran News." /// BOZORGMEHR ACT /// The youth and women want the easing of social restrictions on them. The general question of how to dress, how to behave and what to aspire to. /// END ACT /// But the outcome of last week's vote does not change the fact that Iran remains a theocracy, ruled by strict Islamic leaders, not by democrats. Any softening of Islamic practices advocated by reformers in the new parliament would still require the approval of the country's conservative Islamic clerics, including Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. So far, hard-liners have not had much to say about the apparent mandate for change. The question is - will the old guard try to block reform? /// BOZORGMEHR ACT /// I kind of doubt that because the M-Ps (members of parliament) are the true representatives of the people and everybody has accepted the fact that this was a clean and free election, so there's no question of the representativeness of the MPs. /// END ACT /// But Gary Sick is not so optimistic. The man who played a central role on President Carter's National Security Council during the 1979 hostage crisis believes Iran may first have to decide whether it wants to remain a theocracy or become a democratic republic. /// SICK ACT /// The fundamental question is where does the authority of the regime really come from? Is the authority derived from God? Is this a divine right, if you like? Or is this really a system that is driven by the voice of the people? /// END ACT /// Many Iranians who voted Friday are too young to remember events that led up to the Islamic revolution and the rupture in relations between Washington and Tehran. And it is not likely that a parliament dominated by reformers could by itself end the isolation, sanctions and frequent denunciations that the United States and Iran have been hurling at each other for the past 20 years. But in a statement hardly disguising Washington's interest in wanting better ties, the Clinton administration hailed the election results as a sign the Iranian people want engagement with the rest of the world. Bruce Laingen is one of the American diplomats held hostage by Iranian militants when they seized the U-S embassy in Tehran in 1979. /// LAINGEN ACT /// I would hope that quietly, out of the public domain, we can make some probes now to see when and to what degree that winning majority is prepared to hopefully begin some kind of quiet talks. /// END ACT /// In the past though, Washington's attempts to break the ice (improve relations) with Iran have been rebuffed. If there is going to be a fresh start in relations, former Carter administration aide Gary Sick expects Iran's reformers will have to do it in a way that the senior Islamic clerics who still control foreign policy will be able to accept. /// SICK ACT /// Relations with the United States will not be their first priority. That will be fairly far down on their list of things that they want to have done and that they're not going to push that very hard especially at the beginning. /// END ACT /// Iran remains on the State Department's list of nations that sponsor terrorism. But in recent months, there have been indications that relations might be ripe for improvement. Although all U-S trade with Iran is supposed to be banned, President Clinton has made exceptions, allowing aircraft giant Boeing to sell parts to Iran's national airline as well as the sale of some medicine and agricultural products. (SIGNED) NEB/NJS/JP/me 22-Feb-2000 17:39 PM EDT (22-Feb-2000 2239 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .