Iran Looks to Europe to Counter US Influence Relations with Britain, France, the Netherlands Said to Be Thawing, but US Ties Still Frozen

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IRAN has launched a major diplomatic drive to break its long international isolation.

In the aftermath of the Gulf war, the Islamic republic has restored diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, and Tunisia, and has strengthened existing relations with all the emirates on the southern shore of the Persian Gulf.

Europe is also a focus. Iran is working on gaining a diplomatic opening in the European Community, sources say, and has convinced Britain and the Netherlands to reopen their embassies in Tehran and has strengthened existing ties with all other EC countries.

French President Francois Mitterrand on May 3 formally invited his Iranian counterpart, Hashemi Rafsanjani, to visit Paris. It is the first announced trip by an Iranian post-revolutionary leader to a major Western country and was described over the weekend by Western diplomats in Tehran as "a diplomatic triumph for Mr. Rafsanjani."

But thus far diplomatic overtures by Iran have not included gestures toward the United States.

"Over the past 10 years Iran and the US have been at odds on almost every international issue," says an enigmatically smiling Iranian diplomat. Asked if there was any prospect of an early improvement in Iran-US relations, he replies:

"Even Kuwait's invasion last year by Iran's arch enemy Iraq didn't allow Washington and Tehran to bridge their disagreements. Meanwhile, it made both capitals realize that they have a problem in common: What to do with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and how to deal with postwar Iraq?

"This may in the longer term force our two countries' leaders to sit and talk to one another," the diplomat says.

The main question, according to Western diplomats here, is whether Iran is at present interested in resuming ties with the US.

A majority of parliamentary deputies led by Ahmad Khomeini, the son of Ayatollah Khomeini, the late guide of the Islamic revolution, still refuse any contact with Washington.

Mr. Khomeini said April 23 that "resuming relations with America would be against Islamic values." More recently, those radical deputies criticized Rafsanjani's Cabinet for allowing a US plane loaded with tents and clothes for Kurdish refugees to land at Tehran airport.

An editorialist in an Islamic newspaper went so far as to write that the clothes sent might be infected with the AIDS virus. A few hours later a senior civil servant with the Interior Ministry said used clothing would be returned to the US.

The move was interpreted by Westerners in Tehran as the result of a compromise between the Cabinet and the legislative.

Rafsanjani and most of his ministers have a somewhat different attitude toward the US. Though they continue to criticize the US government for "its hostile attitude toward the Islamic republic and its imperialist policy in the region," these officials never say they definitely rule out resumption of diplomatic ties with the US. …