For almost two decades, Iran has been a nightmare come true for the United States, a one-time ally in the grip of a radical regime.
Iran provided Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan with perhaps their darkest moments in the White House. Its anti-American vitriol is unmatched, it sponsors terrorism and apparently is intent on becoming a nuclear power.
Now, the question is whether a kinder, gentler Iran can begin to emerge with the inauguration Sunday of a more moderate president, Mohammad Khatami, who surprised most analysts in May with a lopsided electoral triumph over a candidate favored by the conservative establishment.
His inauguration coincides with campaign by some U.S. Iran watchers, led by former high-level government officials, for a shift in U.S. policy from one of isolating Iran to engaging it.
From the other side come equally insistent voices that Iran will change little under Khatami because he is the captive of radical clerics. These analysts also believe U.S. policy is successful and should not be changed.
The Clinton administration has adopted a wait-and-see policy. The Iranians, says State Department spokesman Jim Foley, “are having a change of president. What we are looking to see is a change of policy.” He says there will be “no evolution” in U.S. policy until Iran changes.