It may not be the fall of the Berlin Wall. Still, a significant
change is afoot. The decades-long gap between the super Islamic
Republic of Iran and superpower US may finally be narrowing.
Iran's decision to bare its nuclear activities for international
inspectors - and its attendance at the Iraq donors' meeting in
Madrid this week - may signal its willingness to deal more openly
with the US.
That, experts and government officials say, is extremely
important. Iran has something the US desperately wants, beyond
Iran's compliance on the nuclear front: Several high-level Al Qaeda
members are in Iran. The US and some of its allies have been quietly
negotiating behind the scenes for their release. But so far, Iran
has not been willing to give them up.
"With the Iranians having worked through the nuclear issue, the
temperature may drop sufficiently to where this issue can become
resolvable," says Adel al-Jubeir, foreign-affairs adviser to Saudi
Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah.
It's not clear if talks will take place between the Iranian
delegation to Madrid and US officials, or if Iran will make a
contribution toward rebuilding Iraq. But Iran Thursday followed
through on its agreement with Germany, France, and Britain by
delivering documents on the creation of its nuclear program to the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Experts say the time for repairing the relationship has not been
better in decades. "The Iranians may be signaling a willingness to
put everything on the table," says Judith Yaphe, an expert on the
Middle East at the National Defense University in Washington.
"Everything is negotiable."
The US and Iran haven't exactly been on friendly terms since the
1979 Islamic revolution, when 52 Americans were taken hostage inside
the US Embassy in Tehran and held for 444 days. But talks and
exchanges at various levels have occurred over the past few years,
as a reform movement in Iran has gained momentum.
Still, President Bush labeled Iran a member of the "axis of evil"
in his January 2002 State of the Union address. And after last May's
terrorist attacks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the US broke off talks
with Iran on all levels. US officials, including Secretary of
Defense Donald Rumsfeld, accused Iran of harboring Al Qaeda members
who were participants in those attacks.
"There's no question that there are Al Qaeda in Iran," Mr.
Rumsfeld said at a May 20 Pentagon briefing. "Countries that are
harboring those terrorist networks and providing a haven for them
are behaving as terrorists by so doing."
Iranian officials, for their part, hedge about an Al Qaeda