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Iran To Talk Trade With U.S.?

Iran has announced it is ready to join the World Trade Organization, a move that could have far reaching implications. CBS News Correspondent Tom Fenton reports that it may be a first step toward normalizing relations with the United States.

Deputy Trade Minister Mohammad Nahavandian, who was quoted in Tehran press reports, said Iran must negotiate with the WTO Â"to obtain a fare share of international trade.Â" Iran needs to boost its foreign trade in order to reduce its reliance on revenue from its oil reserves.

CBS News Correspondent Tom Fenton Reports.
Nahavandian said Iran had been trying to join the WTO for three years, but its membership had been blocked by Â"certain countriesÂ" (a thinly-veiled reference to the United States).

What makes this move so significant is that Iran would have to rebuild its ties with the U.S. in order to join the organization. In the process, it would have to convince Washington to drop the economic sanctions that were imposed on Tehran because of its support for international terrorism and attempts to obtain weapons of mass destruction.

Reformist President Mohammad Khatami would have to address the cause of the sanctions.

Iran is still torn by the power struggle between the reformists, who now represent a majority of the population, and the clerical hardliners who still see the United States as Â"the great SatanÂ" and control the military and police. Those clerics also hold most of the levers of power in the country.

The amount of domestic criticism in Iran that follows this announcement will be an indication of which side is winning.

In a blow to the reformists, former Interior Minister Abdollah Nouri – a cleric and ally of Khatami — was jailed last week. Iran also has rejected overtures to send U.S. officials to Tehran to handle visa requests from Iranians wishing to visit the United States.

Still, U.S. officials have seen hopeful signs in recent Iranian statements denouncing terrorism. Adding to the optimism, Khatami is believed to have put a hold on a trial for thirteen Jews that the West had pressured Tehran to halt.

It would be a major victory over his hardline isolationist opponents if Khatami succeeds in opening trade talks with the United States and the WTO. Washington has already indicated its willingness to open a dialogue with Iran. Now at least the reformists in Iran seem to be indicating a willingness to respond.

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