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Rafsanjani: Iran Will Work to Free Hostages if U.S. Changes Attitude

August 17, 1989

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) _ President Hashemi Rafsanjani of Iran said Thursday that Iran will work for the release of Western hostages in Lebanon if the United States adopts a more friendly stance toward the Islamic republic.

Rafsanjani made his comments to Pakistan’s foreign minister after being sworn into office before the Majlis, Iran’s Parliament.

″I have said many times that if the United States expects us to help in the Lebanese issue, it should show in practice that it has dropped its hostile stand against us,″ he said, citing Washington’s freezing of Iranian assets and its support of Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war.

″Then we will be inclined to solve the issue,″ the official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted him as telling Foreign Minister Yaqoub Khan of Pakistan.

IRNA, monitored in Cyprus, quoted Khan as saying he had been asked to seek Iran’s cooperation in freeing the 16 hostages, who include eight Americans. Most are held by pro-Iranian groups.

At the swearing-in, Rafsanjani pledged to use the increased powers of the presidency to avoid political strife, but he acknowledged that political infighting has undermined efforts to form a Cabinet.

Rafsanjani, a middle-ranking clergyman, took over from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who was elected the Islamic republic’s supreme leader after the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on June 3.

The new president leads the so-called pragmatists in Iran, who favor improving relations with the West to gain technology and financing for rebuilding an economy devastated by the eight-year Iran-Iraq war.

The rival radicals, headed by Interior Minister Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, advocate strict controls on economic and social activity and an anti-Western foreign policy to keep the 1979 Islamic revolution on track.

Rafsanjani said improving the standard of living for the poor should take precedence over political differences.

″It isn’t right to safeguard the nation with the hungry, poor people always marching forward and giving their life. It cannot go on that way,″ Rafsanjani told the Majlis, apparently criticizing hard-liners.

He urged increased productivity and said the country cannot be independent without it.

″Do we always have to get our wheat, meat, industrial parts, machinery and expert manpower from others? If so we have nothing, neither political nor economic independence,″ he said.

Rafsanjani, who serves as acting commander-in-chief of the armed forces, also hinted Iran would seek to resume peace talks with Iraq, deadlocked since they began Aug. 25, 1988, five days after a U.N.-sponsored cease-fire suspended fighting.

″We must try to stop the outbreak of war ... that is we must politically move in a way that a war will not happen,″ he said.

Rafsanjani won 94.5 percent of the vote in presidential elections July 28. At that time, voters also approved constitutional reforms giving the president increased executive powers.

Khomeini had ordered the reforms so decisions could be made faster without being delayed by rivalries between competing centers of power.

Although the Iranian leadership has kept a facade of unity since Khomeini’s death, cracks have appeared in recent days.

On Wednesday, an anti-Western cleric allied with the hard-liners, Mehdi Karrubi, was elected speaker of the Majlis, which must approve the president’s Cabinet.

Rafsanjani said several current Cabinet ministers had refused to serve in his government, but IRNA did not say if he mentioned names. The president said he expected to present his 24-member Cabinet to the Majlis for approval Sunday.

He is expected to include several hard-liners, including Mohtashemi, who may keep his current job and also act as representative of Ahmad Khomeini, the late patriarch’s 43-year-old son.

The younger Khomeini used to act as a spokesman for his father but has no official role.

On Thursday, he rejected any possible relations between Tehran and Washington and dismissed speculation Iranian authorities had been indirectly in contact with U.S. officials to discuss the release of the Western hostages in Lebanon.

Tehran radio quoted Khomeini as saying Iranian officials will ″punch America in the face, and they will kick America out of the Middle East.″

Rafsanjani, in his comments to the Pakistani official, said Iran condemned the taking of hostages but said ″we know that some of the people who resort to these things out of innocence and because they have no other recourse, have no other way to defend themselves.″

Pro-Iranian Shiite Moslem groups are believed to hold most of the hostages in Lebanon. The hostage held longest is Terry Anderson, chief Middle East correspondent for The Associated Press. He was kidnapped March 16, 1985.

Rafsanjani accused the United States of using a ″domineering tone″ toward Iran and indicated it could be some time before there could be any accommodation on the hostage issue.

″If the Americans really do have good will, it must take a very long time before this good will can be proven in practice,″ he said.

Rafsanjani was sworn in seven weeks early so that he can tackle pressing problems that include shortages, soaring inflation and widespread unemployment.

IRNA reported Aug. 3 that he had been sworn in, but that actually was a religious ceremony confirming his victory.

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