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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 May, 2003, 19:49 GMT 20:49 UK
Iran warns US against 'new crises'
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami
Lebanon welcomes first visiting Iranian president since 1979

Iran is not interested in escalating tensions in the Middle East and opposes anything that created instability in the region, President Mohammad Khatami has said.

On a landmark visit to Lebanon, he declared Iran was determined to work towards democracy and progress for the region and the world.

But he said Syria, Iran and Lebanon would not simply bow to US pressure, and warned America against creating "a new crisis" following its defeat of Iraq.

President Khatami's three-day visit - during which he had talks with President Emile Lahoud and the leader of the radical Hezbollah movement - is first by an Iranian head of state since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The BBC's Kim Ghattas in Beirut says his visit was, at least in public, a show of support for Syria, Lebanon and Hezbollah at a very tense time in the region.

Model of unity

To the sound of songs about resistance and martyrdom and chanting "Death to Israel", thousands of Shia from all over Lebanon greeted Mr Khatami at Beirut's sports stadium

Speaking to a crowd of about 50,000, the Iranian president praised Lebanon as a role model of unity and for its mix of religions and cultures.

He said it was time to "exert all possible efforts to create a region far from persecution and aggression", without extremism and terrorism.

But he told Washington to avoid creating any new problems in the region, and also warned Israel of "harnessing US power to serve its interests".

And, after talks with Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Mr Khatami expressed his backing for the leader of Hezbollah, which the US views as a terrorist movement.

Hezbollah fought the Israeli military occupation in southern Lebanon which ended nearly three years ago, and correspondents say its last real military operation there dates back to January.

'American adventurism'

It emerged this week that US and Iranian officials have had secret talks in Geneva in an effort to ease friction between the two countries.

Observers described President Khatami's speech at the Beirut rally as being in marked contrast to tough words in an address given by Iran's supreme religious leader Ali Khamenei.

Ayatollah Khamenei, who has the last word on all state affairs in Iran, said any move to begin talks with America would be tantamount to "surrender".

In a speech to thousands of students in the capital Tehran, he urged the Iranian people to be united in the face of "American adventurism" in the region.

He accused reformers in Iran of paving the way for an American military attack on Iran by criticising shortcomings in the Islamic system.

He said nothing about the Geneva talks yet some observers believe that such sensitive meetings could not have started without at least his tacit support, says the BBC's regional analyst Sadeq Saba.

It appears that his anti-American rhetoric is an attempt to keep a distance from those contacts and send a message to his supporters that he is not bowing to outside pressure, says our analyst.

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