When a political shift in Tehran placed a reform-minded cleric at the head of the Islamic Republic, the United States eased sanctions, toned down official rhetoric, and offered the coolest of overtures to its erstwhile enemy. This diplomatic thaw has helped to dispel many of the erroneous stereotypes propagated by the respective governments. Yet fundamental barriers still remain.
Ahmad Hojatzadeh, a 28 year-old engineer, was an enthusiastic supporter of Mohammad Khatami in Iran's presidential elections nearly four years ago. Like millions of Iranians, Hojatzadeh was captivated by the moderate cleric who spoke of democracy and freedom and challenged the conservative status quo.
Tajikistan's five-year civil war also has eroded security in Central Asia. The country's eastern provinces have served as a staging area for opposition forces and international terrorist organizations such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).
With his bright, dancing eyes and easy smile, Akbar Ganji does not look like a man holding dark secrets of political assassination and government-sponsored violence. The 40 year-old journalist, however, has spent the last few months in jail for exposing some of those secrets.
Ganji, with his fearless reporting and vocal criticism of Iran's powerful conservatives, has become a leading voice in Iran's nascent pro-democracy movement. He is widely believed to have eclipsed in popularity all other reformist figures, including President Mohammad Khatami, who calls for a more cautious approach.
The Iran Air flight to Damascus was fully loaded and prepared for take-off from Tehran's Mehrabad International Airport. In the front half of the plane, elderly pilgrims headed to a famous Shia Muslim shrine in Damascus were urged by their tour leader to say a group prayer. "Peace and blessings to Mohammad and the family of Mohammad," the tour group responded appropriately.
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said immediately after the 11 September attacks, which killed some 6,500 people, that his "deep sympathy goes out to the American nation, particularly those who have suffered from the attacks."
Iran is moving aggressively to stake out a major role in the development of Caspian Basin oil and gas reserves.
At a September 19 forum in New York, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazzi courted US oil-sector executives and analysts, saying Iran was prepared to cooperate with Western firms in helping develop the Caspian Basin's energy infrastructure.
Iran's hardline conservative opposition has long been suspected of scheming to halt the country's nascent democracy movement. A recent videotaped confession of a hardline militant appears to confirm the existence of a conspiracy among conservative elements in Iran aimed at upholding the old order.