19 March 2002

U.S. Fundamentally Supports Exchanges With Iran

Boucher says reform efforts "blocked by an unelected few"


The United States promotes cultural, scientific, educational and people-to-people exchanges between the United States and the Iranian people, said State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher.

Speaking at the March 19 State Department briefing in Washington, Boucher said such exchanges serve "as a means in promoting positive change inside Iran and increasing understanding between Americans and Iranians."

"In the past few years," said Boucher, "the Iranian people have displayed a powerful desire for reform and return of the rule of law and engagement with the West, as evidenced by the election of reform-minded candidates in local and national elections."

"Until now, however, their desires have been blocked by an unelected few in the Iranian government who continue to support terrorism, pursue weapons of mass destruction, oppose the Middle East peace process and flout international human rights standards," he said.

Following is an excerpt from the March 19 State Department briefing containing Boucher’s comments about Iran:

QUESTION: Senator Biden last week invited members of the Iranian parliament to come to Washington for a meeting. Was that something done in consultation with the State Department, or is that completely separate? I think basically they've turned it down already, but that seems to be a pretty — it would be a pretty big deal if it really were to be taken seriously.

MR. BOUCHER: We've talked about it a little bit before. I'll give you the whole position at this point. The United States continues to promote and pursue cultural, scientific, educational and people-to-people exchanges between the United States and Iranian people as a means of promoting positive change inside Iran and increasing understanding between Americans and Iranians. In the past few years, the Iranian people have displayed a powerful desire for reform and a return of the rule of law and engagement with the West, as evidenced by the election of reform-minded candidates in local and national elections.

It is our sincere hope that these desires of the Iranian people can be turned into reality, resulting in fundamental change in Iran's policy and a role in the international environment. Until now, however, their desires have been blocked by an unelected few in the Iranian Government who continue to support terrorism, pursue weapons of mass destruction, oppose the Middle East peace process, and flout international human rights standards. So it's our hope that these exchanges could occur and would occur and would continue, and that they would contribute to the process of reform.

QUESTION: Anything on this offer in particular?

MR. BOUCHER: Just that, that these kinds of offers, exchanges of legislators or others, we think can be useful and important in encouraging the process of reform.

QUESTION: Is there any way to tell whether it gets more likely the longer that Khatami's Government is in power, or less likely? Is there any way to tell?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to speculate. I think we have to base our assessment on the facts at this point. As you say, it doesn't look like there has been a positive reaction, frankly.



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