Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Iran Picks Up the Pace of Reform Thirteen Years after an Islamic Revolution Swept Iran, the Pragmatists Now in Power Want to Strengthen Ties with West - but Relations with the US Are Key

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Iran Picks Up the Pace of Reform Thirteen Years after an Islamic Revolution Swept Iran, the Pragmatists Now in Power Want to Strengthen Ties with West - but Relations with the US Are Key

Article excerpt

IN December last year the spouses of all foreign ambassadors in Tehran received an invitation to attend a party hosted by President Hashemi Rafsanjani's wife, Efate Maarashi.

Diplomats in the Iranian capital noted that it would be the first time since the Islamic revolution that an Iranian leader's wife would officially appear in public. In the Iranian Islamic tradition, most wives remain in their husbands' shadow.

Excitement among Tehran's diplomatic community culminated a few hours before the reception when, in separate phone calls to each guest, the presidency announced that the Islamic code of dress, which dictates that women wear long dress and cover their hair, would not apply.

"We were all standing in a large room of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs club in northern Tehran," a European ambassador's wife recalls. "Then Mrs. Rafsanjani appeared, flanked by the minister of foreign affairs' wife, Mrs. Velayati. Both women were dressed in the Western way, neither of them wore anything on their hair and they had makeup on....Of course there wasn't a single man in the room, but the simple idea of being received by those two ladies was simply inconceivable a year ago," she said.

According to foreign diplomats, Mrs. Rafsanjani's party is only one example of the changes taking place in Iran these days. And those diplomats believe President Rafsanjani wants to hasten the pace of his reforms.

"For example, we knew that he wanted to privatize state-owned companies but didn't imagine he would go so far and that fast," a European commercial attache said. "When we learned in March that he was selling most Iranian car factories' shares on the Tehran stock market we were stunned."

In the foreign policy field, Iran has resumed relations with all European and most Arab countries. The main question now is whether Rafsanjani, after his sweeping victory in the parliamentary elections last Friday, will try to improve relations with the Islamic republic's perceived archenemy, the United States.

At a press conference held the day after the elections, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Akbar Velayati said, "Our relations with the US have not changed. The reason is that the US has not changed its policy toward us. The US is going on with its hostile policy."

However, other officials from the Islamic regime expressed somewhat different views.

"The question of our relations with the US should be dealt with without slogans," explained Said Rajaie Khorassani, a former ambassador to the United Nations, who now chairs the parliamentary Foreign Policy Committee. Mr. Khorassani is said to be one of Rafsanjani's closest advisers on foreign policy, and some Iranian journalists slate him as Mr. Velayati's successor. "Our experts should study the question of possible relations with the US," he added. …

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