DATE=3/21/2000 TYPE=U-S OPINION ROUNDUP TITLE=U-S OFFERS OLIVE BRANCH TO IRAN NUMBER=6-11738 BYLINE=ANDREW GUTHRIE DATELINE=WASHINGTON EDITOR=ASSIGNMENTS TELEPHONE=619-3335 INTERNET=YES CONTENT= INTRO: Reacting to the recent parliamentary elections in Iran in which reformers scored a huge victory over the anti-U-S religious hierarchy, the United States has lifted restrictions on several products from that nation. Some bans, specifically on crude oil, remain, but the gesture, made in a speech last week by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, is seen as a major overture to the government in Teheran. Several U-S papers agree, and we get a sampling now from ___________ in today's Editorial Digest. TEXT: In her speech, Mrs. Albright announced several steps including the beginning of a process to return millions of dollars in frozen assets to Iran. The money has been held since 1980 after Iranian militants stormed the U-S Embassy and took more than 50 people hostage. The changes also included a lifting of an import ban on several Iranian luxury goods such as pistachios and caviar; relaxing entry for Iranian scholars and athletes to visit the United States. While Mrs. Albright did not actually apologize, she did acknowledge past American meddling in Iran, including Central Intelligence Agency cooperation in the ouster of nationalist Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953. It was that overthrow that restored the reign of the Shah to power, and ultimately led to the Islamic fundamentalist revolution in 1979. The Washington Post called the steps "the boldest attempt yet by the Clinton administration to capitalize on the movement toward moderation" that began in Iran with the election in 1997 of President Mohammed Khatami, a reformist Islamic cleric. With that background, we begin our sampling in Ohio, where The [Cleveland] Plain Dealer is pleased to see the thaw in relations progressing a pace. VOICE: By lifting sanctions on a few Iranian consumer goods, the Clinton administration has shown U-S willingness to reward trends toward less restrictive rule in Tehran. ... How many Iranians or Americans will benefit tangibly is hard to predict. But symbolically, the step ... may help Iran's burgeoning reform movement. ... as the Washington Post noted recently, the sweeping victory of reform candidates in recent elections has made observers in the Arab world take notice. Few pure democracies exist in the Middle East, though governments there are under increasing pressure over restrictions on civil liberties. ... Americans and Iranians alike should be weary of the hostilities their leaders have indulged in since Islamic militants seized the U-S Embassy in 1979. If the administration can ... improve the prospects of Iranian reformers, it is wise to do so. TEXT: For the view from [the state of] Tennessee, we check the [Memphis] Commercial Appeal, which is pleased that things are beginning to thaw. VOICE: With an astute sense of timing, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has chosen the start of the Iranian new year to signal Iran that the United States is willing to move toward "a more normal and mutually productive relationship. As a first step, [Secretary] Albright offered to remove two minor irritants in U-S - Iran relations - a ban on imports of Iranian carpets, pistachios, caviar and dried fruit, and the removal of cumbersome visa requirements for Iranian academics, athletes and professionals visiting the United States. .... But the most important part of her overture, as it will be received in Iran, was her forthright admission that the United States had meddled in Iranian affairs to the detriment of the Iranian people. The Iranians have long sought some official public confession, or at least acknowledgment, of this history as they see it. The U-S-backed overthrow of a popular Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, was "clearly a setback for Iran's political development," [Mrs.] Albright said. For 25 years,the United States backed the increasingly brutal and repressive government of the shah. ... The Iranian government remains deeply divided, with hard- liners still in control of the military and security apparatus. That area is where our remaining disagreements with Iran - support of terrorism, attempts to derail the Mideast peace process, and efforts to develop nuclear weapons - have their roots. But clearly the moderates and reformers are ascending in Iran. [Mrs.] Albright's gesture may hasten that process. TEXT: The Atlanta Constitution is also pleased at this latest development, but talks of the difficulty in dealing with Iran, riven as it is by the opposing forces of reform and orthodoxy. VOICE: The Clinton administration is right to encourage the reform movement in Iran, demonstrated last month by the third straight election in which the hard-liners lost seats in parliament. The relaxed trade sanctions announced by [Secretary] Albright may seem modest, but they mean a lot to entrepreneurs in Iran who are in the forefront of those seeking change. They also send a message that our two countries can do much more business, including dealing in Iran's currently embargoed oil, but only after its leaders show their acceptance of international norms of conduct. No one expects the bitter memories and suspicion separating our two countries to dissipate overnight. But as [Secretary] Albright pointed out, the world has a lot to gain from our finding a way to work together: regional stability, economic development, a firmer grip on the narcotics trade in the area, preservation of historic cultural sites and environmental protection, to name a few. TEXT: Turning to the Pacific Northwest, we read in the Seattle Times, this view of the changing policy. VOICE: It's about time. It has been more than 20 years since religious zealots seized the U-S embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage for more than a year. Since then, Iran has backed away from the medieval theocracy it once embraced. There has been a flowering of business, emergence of a more assertive press and an entry into politics by Iranian women. ... U-S Secretary of State Madeleine Albright remains concerned that Iran sponsors acts of terrorism - the reason for sanctions in the first place. Until the terrorist link ends, she warned - quite reasonably - relations will not be fully normal. [Mrs.] Albright told Iran the U-S has "no intention or desi4re to interfere in the country's internal affairs." This administration -n and the next - should follow through on that. TEXT: Lastly, The Washington Post also sees the difficulties that lie ahead in trying to resurrect such a troubled relationship, after the horrifying occupation of the U-S Embassy and the hostage taking of its staff in 1979. VOICE: Can the Iranian people's evident desire for closer ties with the West, as expressed in a series of credible democratic elections, force Iran's government to change its pro-terrorist, anti-American foreign policy? The Clinton administration hopes so. Since the 1997 election of reformist president Mohammed Khatemi, the administration has been trying to start a dialogue with Teheran - -efforts that Iran's government, divided between Mr. Khatemi's forces and largely unelected theocratic hard-liners, has rebuffed. Last week ... the administration tried again. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright acknowledged past U-S interference in Iranian internal affairs, offered to expand people-to-people contacts and legalized the importance of rugs, pistachios and other Iranian non-oil exports. This proposed expansion of trade is appropriately modest. The necessity of the secretary's musings about alleged American misdeeds in Iran, including c-I-A support for the ouster of nationalist prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 and U-S backing for Iraq during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraqi war, was less clear. ... Her words easily could be used to validate the demonized view of U-S foreign policy propagated by Iran's hard- liners, yet, until now, the events of 1953 had not prevented the rise of pro-Americanism among youthful supporters of Mr. Khatemi. ... the administration has proffered yet another unilateral American gesture; now it's time for Iran to reciprocate. Mr. Khatemi's reformist intent is clear on the domestic front, but he has yet to show that he can and will take charge of foreign policy... TEXT: With those thoughts, we conclude this sampling of editorial comment on the recent concessions made by the United States to Iran in the wake of reform victories in the recent parliamentary elections there. NEB/ANG/ 22-Mar-2000 08:57 AM EDT (22-Mar-2000 1357 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .