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Before resuming US ties with Iran

As the United States and Iran begin to sort out a new relationship in the months ahead, the central question will be to decide what US national interests are in Iran. Our policy must be based not on spite or frustration over the hostage ordeal, but on a cold, hard assessment of what we have at stake.

Despite the trauma of the last two years, American interests would best be served by an Iran that is united, free of Soviet domination, committed to internal economic development, at peace with moderate states in the Persian Gulf , willing to export substantial amounts of oil at tolerable prices, and eager to trade with the West. Such interests parallel those of Iran. We have enough in common with one another to be natural friends in the future, and we must not let our anger with Iran's present leaders blind us to the many possibilities that exist.

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One point should be especially conspicuous in our thinking. Given the Soviet Union's expansionist policies in Afghanistan, the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, and Ethiopia and its attemped use of the Iraq-Iran conflict to increase military and political pressures on other countries of the Persian Gulf , the US must do its best to prevent further Soviet gains in the region. If Iran disintegrated for whatever reason, the Soviet Union, already poised on Iran's borders, would probably intervene, placing the future flow of Iranian oil to the West in grave peril.

It is not easy to see how we can move from intense anger to the pursuit of common objectives. Enough time has to pass for a bilateral relationship to be politically palatable in both countries. Yet, if too long a period passes and too many events intrude, conditions in the area might make any movement impossible. We should not rush into a new relationship with Iran, but neither should we avoid the beginnings of an attempt to shape the nature of that relationship.

As we walk the tightrope, we should take care to see that our policy toward Iran is marked by several features:

* As Iran takes time to sort out its social, economic, and political goals, we should continue to build up our rapid deployment force in the region. At the same time, however, we should try to negotiate an end to the Iraq-Iran conflict, one based on the territorial integrity of Iran.

* We must examine all our actions with respect to Iran to ensure their consistency with the important interests we have in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the smaller states of the Arabian Peninsula.

* We should not resume diplomatic relations with Iran immediately.

* As long as the Iraq-Iran conflict continues, we should avoid arms shipments to the war zone. In any case, we should resist pressure to apply a "double standard" to arms-related sales in the region. For example, it would be difficult to justify providing Iran spare parts it has paid for if at the same time we blocked the export of engine cores to Italy for use in the construction of Iraqi frigates.

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If Iran so desires, we should provide it with the expertise it needs to restore its oil-exporting industry. The US benefits from every barrel of Iranian oil that enters the world market.

If Iran asks, we should seriously consider case-by-case requests for exports of industrial equipment, agricultural commodities, and other commercial products.

If our policy toward Iran is characterized by these elements, we can delay answers to questions about the resumption of diplomatic relations, support for Iran in its war against Iraq, and the possibility of undertaking intelligence-gathering activity near the Iranian-Soviet border. Just how vigorously we proceed to address these questions will depend on Iran's behavior toward us and other nations.

The revolution in Iran has not run its course. There will be further developments in both the country and its leadership. We do not know whether future Iranian leaders will be easier or more difficult to deal with, but it is reasonable to assume that they will eventually recognize that some of our important interests are parallel.

Fifty-two Americans, their families, and their friends suffered greatly in Iran, but it should be remembered that most of the 52 went there after the Shah's downfall in order to represent American policy to a new Islamic republic. Despite their hostile reception, it would be shortsighted to suppose that a mission such as theirs no longer needed to be carried out.

America's perseverance, patience, and restraint got the hostages back safely without any obeisance to Iran and gained it the respect of many countries. The assistance of Algeria gives us an opportunity to try to improve ties with that important Islamic nation. The support of several European and Islamic nations opens other avenues for the improvement of relations. We can surely use these positive developmen ts to advance US longterm interests in the Persian Gulf.

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