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Iran's growing influence spurs U.S. ties with former Soviet states


WASHINGTON -- The United States, in a shift, is moving swiftly to establish formal ties with practically all the new states that were part of the Soviet Union, officials said yesterday.

They said the only exception for now is Georgia, whose government is still unsettled after the ouster of its president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia. But even that is not ruled out.

"There's not any that's excluded," a senior official said. "We're talking to all the remaining republics to see how fast we can move."

The new effort is driven by the administration's belief that it will be in a position to influence events in the new countries only if it has diplomats there. In Central Asian republics, in particular, the administration wants to counter growing efforts by Iran to have influence there.

Late last year, President Bush announced plans to recognize Russia as the successor state to the Soviet Union and to open diplomatic relations with Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

The independence of the other former republics was recognized, but diplomatic ties were held up as the administration sought commitmentto democratic principles, human rights, existing borders and the Soviet Union's international obligations.

But those principles, spelled out by Secretary of State James A. Baker III last September, are now described by administration officials not as conditions to be met but as "principles to help us make a judgment."

This includes Azerbaijan, which was criticized by Mr. Baker in December for the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Testifying before the House Foreign Relations Committee yesterday, Mr. Baker rejected a plea from Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, that the United States not move ahead on ties with Azerbaijan.

"I think we can be more effective if we have a way to talk, if we have an embassy there and are able to communicate with them," he said. Mr. Baker will visit Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and possibly Moldova next week, after which diplomatic relations might quickly follow, officials say.

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