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Awaiting a Signal from Tehran. Washington sees little hope for change until Iran's split leadership overcomes its inertia. US-IRANIAN RELATIONS

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IRAN is changing. The revolution is pulling in its horns. But the time is not yet right for spectacular improvements in US-Iran relations. That is the majority view among Iran specialists interviewed on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Iranian revolution.

The specialists generally agree that Iran's leaders are vigorously debating how to come to grips with the devastation wrought by the Gulf war and with the revolution's unfulfilled promises. A large part of that debate centers on how much Iran should open to the West, including the US.

But most of those questioned don't think that the pragmatists in Iran who favor an opening to the US have the political clout to do so without major concessions from Washington. Despite signs of moderation in Iran, a ranking US official says, fine-tuning US policy won't yield a breakthrough in relations. ``The logjam is on their side,'' he says.

Prof. Joseph Twinam, a Gulf specialist at The Citadel, says the US still carries ``the kiss-of-death element'' in Iran's domestic politics. This makes it especially hard for any Iranian leader to push for an opening to Washington.

Ayatollah Khomeini accepted a truce with Iraq only out of dire necessity, says James Placke, a Washington-based Gulf specialist and consultant. Since then, Khomeini has continued to balance off various factions in the leadership against each other, he says, preventing any one group from consolidating its position.

This, Mr. Placke argues, has resulted in ``a recipe for stagnation,'' leaving the major issues unresolved.

Indeed, the ranking US official argues that Khomeini ``is still holding onto the idea that the revolution is about pure Islam and revenge for what the West did to Islam and Iran.'' The cease-fire with Iraq shows Khomeini is willing to compromise with ``the forces of darkness'' to save the revolution, he says, but there is nothing to show that he is ready to accept ``the bitter pill'' of ties with the US.

``The foreign ministry has been given enough rope to establish relations with the West, aside from the US. But it doesn't yet even have the leeway to make deals with Western banks for badly needed resources,'' a well-placed US specialist says. Nor has it been able to deliver movement on British hostages since relations with London were restored.


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