President Mohammad Khatami of Iran said Tuesday that Iran has no intention of opening an official political dialogue with the United States until Washington takes concrete steps to change its attitude toward his country.
In a hastily arranged 90-minute breakfast and news conference with a score of journalists, Khatami, who spoke in Persian, made an effort to charm his guests, smiling easily, showing flashes of humor and telling them how he had started out as a journalist and editor. He spoke about how he admired the American Puritans, summarized the definition of justice in Plato's Republic and said he wished he could be a tourist and spend up to a month in America.Despite his friendly manner, Khatami said his proposal for cultural exchanges between Iran and the United States had been misunderstood and did not include any government-to-government talks, at least for now.
Khatami welcomed what he called a "change in speech" by American officials toward Iran. But he criticized the American economic embargo against Iran and American opposition to the construction of a pipeline to take oil from the Caspian Sea through Iranian territory. He also faulted the United States for what he called its failure to return the remaining assets belonging to Iranians that were frozen by the U.S. government and for allocating money to "hurt the government of Iran.
In June, in a speech to the Asia Society, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called on Iran to work with the United States to draw up a "road map" for establishing relations between the two countries. But she did not offer any specific incentive or policy change to entice Iran to move.
At the news conference, Khatami also reiterated that, despite an Iranian troop buildup and military maneuvers planned on the border with Afghanistan, his country wants to avoid going to war to stop the Taliban movement, which controls most of Afghanistan.
"Iran is ready to defend its security and territorial integrity," Khatami said. "But we are making all efforts so that, God willing, there will not be a war."