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Sunday, October 03, 2004

TESTING THE WATERS? KHATAMI VISITS A WASHINGTON ALLY

Iranian President Mohamed Khatami stopped in Algeria this weekend, the first leg of trip which will take him next to Sudan and then to Oman. Khatami's statements in Algeria were filled with pro-democratic sentiments. He described a 'dialogue among civilizations and a promotion of democracy', a peculiar topic for a country whose last electoral process was blatantly fixed in favor of the conservative elements in Iran. In today’s world, he said, 'peace, coexistence, freedom, justice, development and democracy at the national and international levels' is required more than ever.

However, Khatami also commented indirectly on his country's current rift with Washington and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran, he said, would be the first to welcome a WMD-free Middle East, a thinly veiled reference to Israel's unacknowledged but widely accepted possession of nuclear capabilities. Iran, he went on, 'wants to be independent' and that access to peaceful energy-related nuclear technology is 'our right'. Forget the fact that Iran, sitting on top one of the world's largest oceans of oil, has no need for nuclear power generation. Algeria, a fellow member of OPEC, also has significant oil reserves and produces 1.3 million barrels per day of light sweet crude.

In reference to terrorism, Khatami noted commonalties between Tehran and Algiers, and urged cooperation between the two states on terrorism would be useful for peace and stability in the region and the world generally. Algeria recently has become one of Washington’s strongest allies in the region, whereas Iran is widely cited by American officials as the world's most egregious supporter of terrorist activities. Despite Iran and Algeria's previously strained relations, it seems likely that Tehran will use these talks to try to cleave its fellow Muslim state from its American allies.

For its part, Washington no doubt appreciates the value of the North African nation in the fight against terrorism. While Washington recently considered Algeria a state-sponsor of terrorism, it quickly came around after the September 11 attacks, providing the U.S. with valuable information and assistance. The U.S. certainly would not welcome a rapprochement between Algiers and Tehran.

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