Mixed messages from Iran.

Author:Darwish, Adel
Position:Foreign relations

A mixture of signals including Scud missiles, smiles and something of the old revolutionary stance is coming out of Iran and confusing its Arab neighbours in the Persian Gulf.

Following overtures from President Mohammed Khatami, regarded by the outside world as the most moderate of Iran's post-revolution leaders, a new campaign of tough diplomacy is confusing observers and causing a split among Arabs.

Just two weeks after President Khatami's fence-mending tour in the Arab world, where he visited Syria, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Iran fired Scud missiles at a base north of Baghdad. The base is the headquarters of the Iranian exiled group Mujahedi-e-Khalq. Bombs, believed to have been planted by Iranian agents, exploded in other bases of the Iranian opposition group, generating protests from Iraq.

The group, which was an important component of the revolution that toppled the Shah in 1979, fell out with the Islamic clerics when its leader Massoud Rajavi backed Abul Hassan Bani-Sadr, Iran's first president, fell foul of religious leaders. The group launched a campaign of terror in 1980 and 1981. In retaliation, its members were hunted down by the regime; its leaders either fled with Bani-Sadr or were executed.

Three years later, Iraq's leader Saddam Hussein, who started his own war with Iran in 1980, offered them arms and a base, from where they launched attacks on Iran, backed by a few Islamic countries and a handful of wealthy Gulf Arabs who feared the fundamentalist threat posed by the Islamic republic.

Last month's attacks on Mujahedi-e-Khalq served as a reminder that it will take more than a moderate leader with a charming smile to soothe the fears of Iran's neighbours and convince the world that Iran has given up on the idea of exporting the Islamic revolution, backing terror groups worldwide and pursuing its enemies abroad. It also indicates that Iran remains deeply opposed to reconciliation with Iraq, its foe in an eight-year war during the 1980s and its principal historic rival.

Despite a warm reception in Jeddah in May, where President Khatami held talks with Crown Prince Abdullah, Arabs have been warning that the differences with Iran are of an historic nature.

Mr Khatami's tour was his first foray into the Arab world and part of an attempt to ease his country out of years of isolation and external tensions. His visit to Saudi Arabia was the first by any Iranian leader since the 1979 Islamic revolution. While using his mild manner and...

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