MUCH HAS changed in the Middle East during the past year. Saddam's tyranny has finally been displaced, and even the most recalcitrant Arab despots are speaking the language of political reform. In the midst of these cataclysmic changes, the one state in the region whose priorities and policies appear constant is the Islamic Republic of Iran. On the surface, the clerical state seems committed to its course of confrontation with the United States and to its defiance of international norms on issues such as terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
The remarkable events of the recent past, however, have had a subtle yet perceptible impact on Tehran's international orientation, opening the possibility for a new approach to the United States and the enveloping regional order. Throughout the late 1990s, despite the assumption of the presidency by the reformist Muhammad Khatami, factional politics, competing centers of power and the legacy of the revolution obstructed Iran's uneasy transition from a revisionist to a pragmatic state. Too often, national interests were sacrificed at the altar of revolutionary dogma.