| A child cries during a funeral service for 18 family members at a cemetery in Bam. (AFP)
Tehran, Jan. 1 (Reuters): A senior Iranian official said today Washington’s decision to ease some sanctions on Tehran to speed humanitarian relief to quake victims was a goodwill gesture that Iran would respond to in kind.
“In parliament, right now we are evaluating the American government’s positive behaviour and I’m sure that goodwill will be answered with goodwill,” said Mohammad Reza Khatami, deputy parliament speaker and brother of President Mohammad Khatami.
He did not specify what reciprocal measures Iran might take.
Washington announced a 90-day measure to let US citizens and non-profit groups donate money directly to non-governmental organisations working in Iran on relief for victims of the December 26 Bam quake which killed at least 30,000 people.
“We consider this a step forward for building trust...(which) shows a will and an interest to resolve issues,” Khatami said in a telephone interview.
His comments were in stark contrast to those of his brother, the President, who on Tuesday said Washington’s aid for Bam would not alter ties between the countries.
Iran’s influential former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani also hinted at a possible chink in the decades-old wall of mistrust between the two countries.
“The Americans have shown positive signals in recent months,” he told reporters during a visit to Bam today.
Asked whether recent developments could affect ties between Washington and Tehran, he said: “I’m not sure, but the signs indicate that,” the official IRNA news agency reported.
Foreign minister Kamal Kharrazi, also quoted by IRNA, said a permanent halt to US sanctions on Iran would “create a new atmosphere in the two countries’ relations.”
Iran’s acceptance of US aid for victims of the Bam quake marked a rare thawing in relations, frosty since Washington severed diplomatic ties after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The atmosphere turned icy again last year when Washington dubbed Iran an “axis of evil” member and accused it of building nuclear weapons and sponsoring terrorism.
US officials want Iran to hand over arrested al Qaida members, stop backing Palestinian militants in Israel and not to interfere in Iraq.
Iran, in turn, repeatedly accuses Washington of seeking to overthrow its Islamic government, of failing to respect its strategic role in the Gulf region and of pursuing misguided foreign policies in West Asia.
US secretary of state Colin Powell said in an interview with the Washington Post this week recent “encouraging” moves by Tehran had raised the possibility of resuming an official dialogue between the two countries.
He referred specifically to Iran’s acceptance of US aid and its decision to allow snap inspections of nuclear plants which Washington says may be used to make atomic bombs.
US officials said President George W. Bush was considering a resumption of talks — held in Geneva in the run-up to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and broken off by Washington last May — but wanted to see some gesture from Iran first.
“We consider Powell’s remarks positive and especially what the Americans did yesterday to lift the embargo,” Khatami said.