Iran Plays Down Political Impact of U.S. Quake Help
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Iran Plays Down Political Impact of U.S. Quake HelpDec 30, 9:41 AM (ET)

By Parisa Hafezi

KERMAN, Iran (Reuters) - President Mohammad Khatami said Tuesday U.S. aid to earthquake victims in Iran, while welcome, would not alter the state of relations between the two arch foes who broke off ties nearly a quarter century ago.

"I don't think this incident will change our relations with the United States," Khatami told a news conference in the capital of southeastern Kerman province where officials say up to 50,000 people were killed in a quake that struck Friday.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said in an interview with the Washington Post published Tuesday that Washington was open to restoring a dialogue with Iran after "encouraging" moves by the Islamic Republic in recent months.

Powell referred to Iran's willingness to accept U.S. aid for the earthquake relief effort, paving the way for the first U.S. military planes to land in Iran in over 20 years.

"There are things happening and therefore we should keep open the possibility of dialogue at an appropriate point in the future," Powell said.

But Khatami, who is viewed as a foreign policy moderate in Iran, played down the importance of the U.S. assistance.

"In incidents like this governments normally do not consider their differences," he said. "But this has got nothing to do with political issues. The problems in Iran-U.S. relations are rooted in history."

"Nevertheless, I thank all...those who helped us and showed sympathy despite our different viewpoints," Khatami said.

Washington broke ties with Iran shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution when radical students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held 52 hostages for 444 days.

President Bush last year included Iran along with North Korea and Iraq under Saddam Hussein in an "axis of evil" developing nuclear and chemical weapons and supporting terrorist groups.

U.S. and Iranian officials held talks over Afghanistan and Iraq in Geneva earlier this year. But Washington halted those meetings after accusing Iran of harboring al-Qaeda members linked to suicide bomb attacks in Saudi Arabia in May.

Khatami said that for Iran to restore ties with Washington it would "have to see a change in its methods ... to create a kind of hole in the wall of mistrust between the two countries."

However, he pointed out that humanitarian aid from nongovernmental organizations in the United States "shows there is no enmity between the people of Iran and the American nation."

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