Soccer Diplomacy

Clinton passes the ball to Madeleine Albright. Madeleine takes it forward and passes it back to Clinton.  Clinton shoots the ball.  Mohamad Khatami catches the ball and starts moving sideways Prodi, the referee watches the handling of the ball closely and shows the green card to both clinton and Khatemi .......  
Washington used World Cup as an excuse to test the readiness of Khatami's administration for direct government-to-government talks.  On June 17, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright offered new confidence-building steps with Iran, with ultimate aim of normal ties between the two countries.  In a message taped ahead of the soccer match on June 21, Clinton reinforced U.S. intentions and said Washington wanted "genuine reconciliation" based on mutual respect.  

Following Clinton's statement, Khatami said that an appropriate response would be delivered by the Iranian government.   On July 1, Mohammad Khatami said, "Washington must demonstrate its sincere desire for improved ties in deeds, not just in words."  After meeting with the Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, Khatami told reporters "We have noted a change in the tone but we are always looking for sincerity in practice and not just in words."  

It is suggested that Prodi was also carrying a message from fellow NATO-member United States to Iran. Prodi's visit to Iran was another step towards normalization of Iran relation with EC and U.S.  Italian Prime Minister is the first EU leader to travel to Iran since the 1992 visit by the Greek Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis. "Of course, I'm here only as the Italian prime minister but I have talked with my colleagues and my counterparts in the European Union and all of them are very well informed about the importance of this trip,'' he said. Reducing the trade gap, largely through stepped up exports, as well as enhanced Italian investments in major Iranian textile and energy projects were some of the other topics high on Prodi's agenda.  

While the soccer diplomacy was ongoing, in a seminar that was attended by petroleum multinationals, Iran unveiled some 20 oil and gas projects worth $8 billion.   According to the Iranian officials, U.S. firms were also presented with opportunities similar to other foreign companies at the three-day gathering. This seminar follows last month U.S. decision to waive the threat of sanctions over a $2 billion gas project in Iran led by France's Total (TOTF.PA).  Washington has promised more such waivers for European Union companies doing business with Tehran so long as the EU cooperates with Washington on its policy towards Iran.  

Farham Hezareh 
California, USA 
July 1998