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Albright, Iran Minister Meet

September 22, 1998 GMT

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met with Iran’s deputy foreign minister and other diplomats Monday in the highest level U.S.-Iranian diplomatic contact in two decades but there were no one-on-one direct talks between the two countries.

The meeting followed a speech by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami to the U.N. General Assembly in which he called for a dialogue on terrorism, said there could be no military solution in Afghanistan and chided U.S. global influence.

Albright met with Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, as part of an eight-nation meeting convened by U. N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to discuss the civil war in Afghanistan and the potential for a war between Afghanistan and Iran.

The eight countries later called for a cease-fire among warring factions in Afghanistan and urged them to forge a broad-based government. They also said Lakhdar Brahimi, the chief U.N. negotiator for Afghanistan, should visit the region to try to reduce tensions. Brahimi said he expected to travel to the region next month.

State Department spokesman James Rubin said the United States also called on other countries to stop supplying arms to Afghanistan, and help in an effort to stamp out the drug trade, which Washington believes is helping finance the Taliban militia.

``I think we as an international community ought to do whatever we can to bring the situation under control, not only internally but to ensure that tensions in the region do not increase,″ Annan said as he entered the meeting.

Inside, he told the group, ``As the war in Afghanistan itself has escalated, so have risks of its becoming a fullscale regional conflict.″

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi had been scheduled to attend the eight-nation conference and there was no immediate explanation why Zarif was sent instead.

Rubin said that because of the urgency of the issue, Albright was happy to participate in the meeting despite the lower-level representation by Iran.

``In our minds, it was not a U.S.-Iran meeting,″ Rubin said. He acknowledged, however, that had Kharazi attended, there might have been a chance for Albright to hold a discussion on the side. That did not occur with Zarif, he said.

Several members of Congress last week urged the Clinton administration to refrain from any goodwill gestures toward Khatami or his government and majority in the House of Representatives signed a statement urging continued toughness towards Iran.

Khatami, in the first General Assembly speech by an Iranian leader in 12 years, said his country wanted good relations with the outside world, but denounced the idea of a world dominated by the United States.

``The fantasy of a unipolar world ruled by a single superpower is but an illusion,″ he said.

But he also appeared to soften long-standing Iranian criticism of the United States.

``I am confident that powerful nations, such as the American people, will not accept that their good name, potentials and national prestige be exploited for the advancement of the dream of a uni-polar world by the politicians, motivated by the short-sighted material and factional interests of a few,″ he said.

On Afghanistan, Khatami called for all-party talks to avoid conflict. ``There is no military solution,″ he said.

Iran has no diplomatic relations with the United States but Khatami has sought to tone down nearly two decades of hostility with the country sometimes known in Iran as ``the Great Satan.″

The meeting was the first by the group of eight nations since the Taliban overran the opposition stronghold Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan on Aug. 8 and killed several Iranian diplomats. The Taliban religious militia controls about 90 percent of Afghanistan.

The Clinton administration has condemned the slayings, but has urged Iran not to respond with force. Tehran has amassed 200,000 troops at the Afghan border and has conducted intimidating military exercises.

Albright hoped to use Monday’s forum to call again for restraint and to press Iran to become a ``responsible member of the international community.″

The so-called ``six plus two″ group of nations, which has met before at sub-minister levels, includes representatives from the United States and Russia and six Afghan neighbors _ Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and China.

Not included in the U.N. talks were diplomats from the Taliban or the nearly overrun government of Burhanuddin Rabbani, which is still recognized as the official representative of Afghanistan at the United Nations.

Since moderate Khatami became Iran’s president in August 1997, the United States and Iran have been making tentative moves through cultural and academic exchanges toward repairing the dramatic rift that began in 1979 when Iranian students took 52 Americans hostage at the U.S. embassy for 444 days.

Iran is still controlled by hard-line religious fundamentalists who see the United States as the ``great Satan.″

Albright extended an olive branch to Iran in June, suggesting the United States is ready to resume a bilateral dialogue _ something Tehran’s leaders have so far rejected.