Failed U.S. Overture To Iran

In a surprising development, President Clinton has asked Iran to help U.S. investigators in the 1996 bombing of a U.S. military housing complex in Saudi Arabia. The response from Iran has reportedly been negative.

CBS News Senior European Correspondent Tom Fenton reports that administration officials privately confirm the President sent a letter last month to Iranian President Mohammed Khatami asking for cooperation in the investigation.

CBS News Senior European Correspondent Tom Fenton
The letter was carried to Paris by an official of the National Security Council and given to an Arab diplomat for delivery to Iran. The U.S. has had no diplomatic relations with Iran for twenty years.

Nineteen American servicemen were killed and more than 500 other people wounded when a truck bomb exploded outside the Khobar Towers in Eastern Saudi Arabia.

Three suspects, believed to be members of the Shiite Muslim minority in Saudi Arabia, have taken refuge in Iran. Iranian and Arabic newspapers have reported that President Clinton asked Iran to expel the three suspects.

One Clinton administration official described the letter as part of a wider effort to suggest ways President Khatami could improve relations with Washington. But the Iranian president was more likely to have seen it as a trap.

Khatami, a moderately reformist president, was elected by a landslide a year after the bombing took place. He clearly wants to improve relations with the United States, but has little real power. His supporters -- a large majority of Iranians -- hope his hand will be strengthened in the legislative elections to be held next February.

In the meantime, Khatami is under heavy pressure from the radical clerics who still call the shots in Tehran. A move by the Iranian president to aid the FBI in an investigation that might implicate his own country could turn out to be political suicide.

Administration officials presumably know this. The question is why they bothered to ask in the first place.

Reported by Tom Fenton.
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