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Iran's candidates raise issue of U.S.

Presidential candidate Abdollah Jasbi says Iran should have relations "with all countries"  

TEHRAN, Iran -- A presidential candidate in next week's Iranian elections has called for the restoration of relations with the United States.

Abdollah Jasbi, who is in third place far behind President Mohammad Khatami, according to the latest opinion poll, said the move was "in the national interest."

He is the latest candidate to raise the issue of Iran-U.S. relations, which were broken off in April 1980 after radical students seized hundreds of hostages at the U.S. embassy in Teheran following Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.

Speaking on Wednesday, Jasbi, 57, said: "We can have relations with all countries based on the national interest.

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"Of course, the United States is one of these countries."

Jasbi told a press conference that Iran had to "put the ball in the American court."

"We will draw up a list of the problems between Iran and the United States to make things transparent and settle our difficulties."

The olive branch comes as the U.S. Congress considers renewing sanctions against foreign companies that invest in Iran's oil and gas sector when they lapse in August.

Young Iranians, the biggest voter group, often say they are weary of the "Great Satan" rhetoric and keen to end two decades of hostility that has been part of the ideological bedrock of the Islamic Republic.

Defence Minister Admiral Ali Shamkhani, another presidential candidate, suggested in an interview with Reuters last week that Iran might be able to restore ties if the issue could be removed from factional politics and a consensus built by a strong president among the entire Iranian establishment.

Standard conditions

Hojatoleslam Taha Hashemi, a centrist cleric reputed to be close to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told Reuters that Iran and Washington should begin discreet negotiations to work out a road-map to establishing relations on an equal footing.

Both repeated standard conditions: namely, that Iran should be spared from humiliation and the U.S. should show remorse for past actions, notably its role in engineering the 1953 coup that restored autocratic Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to power, Reuters reported.

Jasbi said that if elected president on June 8, he would draw up a list of outstanding problems between the U.S. and Iran. He would then submit this list for approval to Iran's Supreme National Security Council and to Khamenei.

"We have to create a formula and write a list of existing problems to give to the leader, and then give it to the United States so everything is transparent," he said.

"Then it is America that should take steps to solve these problems," he said.

Publicly, Khamenei has shown no signs of softening his opposition to ties with the U.S.

In his most recent comment, he told a Tehran conference in support of the Palestinian uprising last month: "The principal reason behind the pressures of the arrogant powers, especially the Americans, on Iran is our support for Palestine.

"Other things such as the ridiculous claims of human rights violations and the manufacturing of weapons of mass destruction are nothing but excuses and pretexts," he said.

Khatami launched a charm offensive towards the U.S. public in a watershed CNN interview in 1997 in which he called for a "breach in the wall of mistrust." But he has kept silent on the issue during the election campaign.

In other election developments, parliament used an emergency procedure on Wednesday to pass a measure allowing young Iranians aged 15 to vote even if they do not have a photograph on their identity card, Reuters reported.

The measures are designed to prevent thousands of the country's youngest voters from being disenfranchised. They are subject to approval by the Guardian Council of conservative senior clerics.

Meanwhile, the authorities continue to investigate Tuesday's attack on the re-election campaign headquarters of Khatami in the central city of Isfahan.

Staff members put out the fire after the attackers poured petrol outside the office gate and set it ablaze.

The fire caused little damage and no one was injured.

• President of Iran
• U.S.-Iran relations

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