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Last Updated: Monday, 12 May, 2003, 11:37 GMT 12:37 UK
Shia welcome Khatami to Lebanon
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami
Iranian leader travels for key meeting with Shia neighbours

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami is in Lebanon for the first visit by an Iranian head of state since the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979.

Large crowds of Shia Muslims lined the streets from the airport in Beirut to welcome President Khatami.

One of the main issues in talks with Lebanese president Emile Lahoud on Middle East developments is expected to be the role of the militant organisation Hezbollah.

The group is funded by Iran and makes periodic attacks into Israel from southern Lebanon.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the United States has been putting pressure on Lebanon, Iran and Syria to revise their longstanding support of Hezbollah.

Call for unity

In an interview with the official Iranian news agency, President Lahoud said Mr Khatami's visit would shore up support for Lebanon as a centre for resistance.

"Recent changes in the region oblige us not only to consult each other but also to act to confront their consequences while sticking to our rights and our positions," he said.

"We must not appear disunited and submissive, easy to conquer."

In remarks quoted in the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir, President Khatami said American and British forces had suffered a moral defeat in Iraq.

"The greatest mistake will be if the invasion forces attempt to impose a system that is immoral and alien," he was reported as saying.

President Khatami is in Lebanon for three days before travelling to Syria, Yemen and Bahrain.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed Hezbollah when he held talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad earlier this month in Damascus.

Syria acknowledges giving political support to Hezbollah but denies channelling arms to the group.

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