UNITED NATIONS, N.Y. — IRAN'S foreign minister, Ali Akbar Velayati, in New York to attend the annual UN General Assembly debate, said in an interview this week that Iran is interested in more cooperation with other countries for comprehensive postwar reconstruction. The country was devastated in an eight-year war with Iraq that ended in a cease-fire in August 1988. Dr. Velayati said that cooperation for reconstruction - one of the highest priorities in Iran's foreign policy - was discussed in a number of bilateral meetings held with other foreign ministers who attended the UN session.
Many European countries, he said, have recently expressed a desire to strengthen relations with Iran ``after the tension that was created between us and them.'' This was a reference to the furor over Iranian threats against author Salman Rushdie. Iran welcomes their interest, Velayati said.
As for the United States, releasing Iranian money and assets that Iran says the US still holds could be ``the most tangible index'' of American good will, he said. If the US shows its good intentions, he said, ``of course it will create a new atmosphere.'' If there is any disagreement about the amount, Velayati declared, ``it is not a very difficult job to clarify'' how much should be paid.
Messages have been transmitted from the US to Iran, primarily via the American interest section in the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, Velayati said. Iran has replied to the Swiss delegation. But so far there have been no direct contacts with the US, he said.
The minister declared that Iran did endeavor, in response to a request from UN Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar, to help find the body of Lt. Col. William Higgins. Colonel Higgins was a US Marine serving with the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon. He was kidnapped and recently reported hanged by his captors.
``Unfortunately, we couldn't do anything, in spite of our efforts,'' Velayati said. ``There are many different groups, and nobody can claim to have influence among all of them.'' This, he stated, is what's blocking the release of all the hostages.
Iran has also asked for help in releasing several Iranian diplomats kidnapped in Beirut, and President Bush offered to help, but so far, Iran has received no clear information, said the minister. He added, ``All of us can have close cooperation in Lebanon for the freedom of all the hostages.''
Iran is not totally disappointed with the UN-sponsored peace talks with Iraq, Velayati stated, despite the fact that there has been no progress more than one year after a cease-fire went into effect. The main reason for stalemate, he said, is Iraq's failure to withdraw from Iranian territory it's still holding.
``Mr. P'erez de Cu'ellar is insisting on that, and we are insisting on that. It is not a matter for negotiation.'' Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani's recent statement that Iran would use force if Iraq did not withdraw is quite natural, he said, ``but of course we prefer solving this problem through negotiations inside the framework of Security Council Resolution 598.''
Velayati reported that Iran has agreed to the Secretary-General's recent proposal that repatriation of the many thousands of prisoners of war could be done simultaneously with the withdrawal of forces, rather than afterward, as in the plan - thus offering a concession to move the peace talks forward.