DATE=2/22/2000 TYPE=U-S OPINION ROUNDUP TITLE=REFORMERS WIN BIG IN IRAN VOTE NUMBER=6-11694 BYLINE=ANDREW GUTHRIE DATELINE=WASHINGTON EDITOR=ASSIGNMENTS TELEPHONE=619-3335 CONTENT= INTRO: The votes are still being counted in Iran, but it is clear that reform candidates have won a substantial victory, assuring them of a majority in the Majlis or parliament. Newspapers throughout the United States and around the world are studying the results, mostly with approval, and we get a sampling of the American reaction now from ___________ in today's U-S Opinion Roundup. TEXT: It has been more than 20 years since the Shah of Iran fled the country in the wake of a popular uprising by supporters of a stern, Islamic cleric, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He had run his campaign for power in Tehran from exile in Paris, but when the people had had enough of the ailing shah, he returned triumphant. However, the ayatollah then instituted a harsh theocracy in which orthodox Islamic rules applied. During the past few years, as the economy continued to stagnate, the increasingly youthful population of the nation tired of the strict rules. In 1997, young voters joined with their by now disenchanted elders to elect a relatively moderate cleric, Mohammad Khatami, as president. But he has been hampered by the un- elected, but almost totally powerful, successor to the Ayatollah Khomeini, Ayatollah Ali Khameini. In last Friday's elections, however, the reform movement scored an even more impressive victory, sending a clear majority of progressive, reform-minded candidates to parliament to support the president. Most U-S papers are very pleased, but in Charleston, South Carolina, The Post and Courier is still suggesting caution, in dealing with Iran. VOICE: The victory of moderates ... has drawn praise from democratic governments, including the United States. However, a word of caution is also appropriate. ... while the election is likely to lead to a stronger democracy and improve the lives of ordinary Iranians, it does not automatically guarantee a kinder, gentler Iran in the sphere of foreign policy. ... It would be naive to think that Iran has moved any closer in these parliamentary elections to meeting U-S demands that it cease support for terrorists and respect the efforts of Israel, Syria and the Palestine Authority to make peace. If anything, Iran seems ready to stir up more trouble. ... The moderates' victory may gradually lead Iran to adopt a more constructive foreign policy. But now is not the time for the United States to ease its conditions for improving relations with Iran. TEXT: The Post and Courier's caution does not extend up the East Coast to Connecticut, where The Hartford Courant is almost optimistic about Iran's election results, suggesting that: "politically, spring is in the air." VOICE: The Clinton administration should respond to this remarkable event by being receptive to any goodwill tenders that might come from Tehran. Americans must not continue to base attitudes toward Iran on the U-S Embassy hostage crisis that followed the 1979 revolution and the bitter bilateral relations that have held sway since. ... In a sense, Iran experienced its second revolution last week. This one was through the ballot. /// OPT /// More than 80 percent of the nation's eligible voters turned out, and a decisive majority supported change. The leadership that brought the Islamic Republic to power in 1979 would be foolish to turn a deaf ear. /// END OPT /// TEXT: The big national daily, U-S-A Today, published in a Washington D-C suburb, is also pleased, headlining its comment: "Iran's bright hope." VOICE: Inch by grudging inch, a wave of young reformers appears to be pushing Iran where its leaders least want to go -- toward moderation and away from two decades of hostility to the united States. That face was evident in the streets of Tehran Monday as jubilant voters thronged Iran's moderate President Mohammad Khatami, following the news that his supporters prevailed over hard-liners in parliamentary elections. ... But while there's no mistaking Iranians' rejection of the increasingly corrupt, isolated old guard, it's too soon to judge whether the vote will translate into improvements in U-S Iranian relations any time soon. Or in the oppressed lives of Iran's 65-million citizens. /// OPT /// ... Nonetheless, Iran's voter-driven progress cannot be denied. Iran now gives its citizens more freedom to choose leaders than do Egypt, Syria, and the other Arab countries of the Middle East. If the new parliament passes additional electoral and judicial reforms, regular Iranians will be more empowered than ever to swing the nation away from its two decades of oppressive religious zealotry. /// END OPT /// TEXT: The Washington Post titles its comment: "Iran's Evolution." VOICE: Preliminary results from Iran's parliamentary elections suggest that candidates supporting President Mohammed Khatami and his reform agenda will win a majority of seats. That result, if it survives ... runoff elections, would nudge Iran farther along a gradual path away from full theocracy to something much more open and democratic. ... It's not clear whether society can continue to evolve despite determined resistance from hard-line clerics or whether the Iranian political system would collapse under the strain. TEXT: The New York Times is also pleased: VOICE: The peaceful revolt against clerical repression in Iran that began three years ago with the election of Mohammad Khatami as president is gaining strength. ... The message of these elections is that an overwhelming majority of Iranians are weary of fundamentalist rule, an ailing economy and an abrasive foreign policy that has left Iran lagging behind at a time of expanding prosperity and freedom around the world. TEXT: The overwhelming victory of reform candidates draws this reaction from Pittsburgh's Post-Gazette: VOICE: It was an image that defied Americans' perceptions of Iran. Last Friday, millions of Iranians - men and women - went to the polls to vote in parliamentary elections. ...In a sense, Friday's vote was a follow-up to the 1997 presidential election won by reformist theologian Mohammad Khatami... [who] has mostly been unable to deliver on his promises to create a freer civil society .... Due in part to the ... old guard [who] retained a majority in the powerful 290-seat parliament. TEXT: The Chicago Tribune reminds its readers that the previous religious leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, whose forces lost in this vote, used to call the United States "The Great Satan." VOICE: Last weekend, the theocratic edifice crumbled further. Voters gave firm control of the parliament to reformers and, in the process, gave [President] Khatami at least the chance of finally pushing through some of the changes the conservative mullahs have managed to frustrate... the will of the people has to count for something, even in Iran, and the election results put the burden on the clergy to either respect that will or ... Suffer the consequences of defying it. Iran is ready for reform. TEXT: However, in Denver, foreign affairs columnist Holger Jensen at the Rocky Mountain News, cautions people not to misunderstand the results. VOICE: It's not that Iranians are not devout Muslims. Most of them are. But ... they would like to see their mullahs move out of politics and back into the pulpit. TEXT: In Texas, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram says not just the United States, but the whole region, is pleased with the results. VOICE: The election results... have been greeted with great optimism by regional neighbors, such as Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Israel, by some western European countries, by China, and of course, by the United States. TEXT: On that note, we conclude this sampling of U-S press reaction to the parliamentary election in Iran in which reform candidates swept to victory. NEB/ANG/JP 22-Feb-2000 13:47 PM EDT (22-Feb-2000 1847 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .