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Wednesday, March 10, 1999 Published at 22:36 GMT

World: Europe

Treat us as equals says Iranian leader

President Khatami had talks with the Italian prime minister

Iranian leader President Mohammad Khatami has called on the US and Europe to regard Islam as an equal partner if they want to etablish world peace, justice and security.

During his continuing visit to Italy he said Islam and the West must get to know one another better, and then move on to improve their political, culture and economic relations.

[ image: President Khatami: We must get to know each other better]
President Khatami: We must get to know each other better
Earlier, during a meeting with the Italian Prime Minister, Massimo D'Alema, President Khatami said it was vital to install democracy around the world and to end violence and terrorism.

Mr D'Alema said Italy hoped to bring about a more balanced relationship between Iran and Europe.

Security is tight for the visit, which has been marked by a series of demonstrations. It is the first visit by an Iranian leader to western Europe since the Islamic Revolution 20 years ago but has attracted criticism from opposition Iranians in exile and from the US.

Several people were detained in Rome after protesters hurled eggs filled with paint at a car carrying the Shi'a Muslim cleric.

Three detained

Hundreds of police have been deployed and several main roads in Rome have been closed to traffic, with police helicopters patrolling overhead.

Earlier on Wednesday, three Iranian nationals staging a protest hostile to Mr Khatami were detained in front of the monument to the Unknown Soldier, where the Iranian president was to lay a wreath.

On Thursday, President Khatami is expected to become the first Iranian president to meet Pope John Paul II.

[ image:  ]
He told reporters: "I am quite proud that at the end of the 20th Century I have begun a sort of dialogue between civilisations and countries and different people and cultures." he said.

"There's an absolute necessity to install democracy and to end all forms of dictatorship," said Mr Khatami.

Neither Mr D'Alema nor Mr Khatami made any direct reference to human rights problems in Iran. But the Italian prime minister indicated that the West would be watching Iran's domestic situation.

"We are looking with interest at the new openness with which Iran is looking at Europe," he said.

"For us the respect of human rights and liberties are the irrevocable elements upon which we base dialogue."

The US has said that while Iran's reintegration into the international community is to be welcomed, President Khatami should be pressed to answer concerns over terrorism and nuclear proliferation.

End to isolation

Moderate forces in Iran see the trip as an opportunity for Mr Khatami to boost his international prestige.

Simon Jones: Italy's pro-Iranian stance is not universally shared.
Mr Khatami's reformist supporters have just secured an important victory in the Islamic republic's first local elections.

The BBC Middle East Correspondent Jim Muir says the president clearly believes the time has come for him to begin carrying the message to the Western world that Iran has changed, that it has a new, more tolerant and more outward-looking political culture.

Italy regards Iran as key to Middle East stability and has long tried to serve as a bridge between it and the West.

Last week, the Italian oil company, ENI joined France's Elf Aquitaine in signing a $500m deal with Iran, flouting the United States' long-standing threat of sanctions.

Mr Khatami will also be travelling to France in April.

Since his election two years ago, Mr Khatami has visited the West just once - on a trip to the United Nations in September.

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