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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 September 2006, 16:54 GMT 17:54 UK
Mixed feelings over Khatami visit
By Mohammad Tabaar
BBC World Service, Washington

In his recent visit to the US, the reformist former president of Iran, Mohammad Khatami, called the Holocaust a "historical fact", condemned al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden and advised US Muslims to be "good citizens".

At the same time, he criticised Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories, defended the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and slammed US policy in the Middle East.

Mohammad Khatami
Mr Khatami spoke at several high-profile venues

Speaking at Harvard University, Mr Khatami said: "One cannot and ought not engage in violence in the name of any religion, just as one cannot and ought not turn the world into one's military camp in the name of human rights and democracy.

"During the calamity of 11 September, two crimes were committed: One was the killing of innocent people and the second was making this crime in the name of Islam," Mr Khatami told the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

At the Washington National Cathedral, Mr Khatami, who is now head of the International Centre for Dialogue of Civilisations, called for "true inter-civilisational dialogue".

"Great religions, particularly Islam, Judaism and Christianity, can help mankind solve modern problems and challenges by a return to their vital, vibrant and common essence," he said.


Mr Khatami's 12-day private speaking tour, which ended this week, was subject to much criticism from conservatives, both in Iran and in the US.

In Iran, Mr Khatami was criticised for "recognising the existence of Israel".

In an editorial, Hossein Shariatmadari of the hard-line Kayhan daily asked Mr Khatami: "Why do you oppose Imam (Khomeini's) explicit view of Israel as a cancerous tumour and his demand that it be removed from the political geography of the region?"

Outgoing President Khatami greets incoming hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Critics call Mr Khatami a supporter of "violent jihad"
He added that he hoped that Mr Khatami would "repent" to God and "apologise to the oppressed and noble people of Iran".

Fatemeh Rajabi, wife of government spokesman Gholamhossein Elham, went even further and called on religious leaders to defrock Mr Khatami.

Meanwhile in the US, Republican Senator Rick Santorum described him as "one of the chief propagandists of the Islamic fascist regime".

Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney denounced Mr Khatami's visit to Harvard and said taxpayers should not be providing security and special treatment to an individual who supports violent jihad and the destruction of Israel.

The US state department's bureau of diplomatic security ensured his safety while he travelled to New York, Chicago, Washington DC, Charlottesville and Boston.

Personal decision

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, President Bush said that he had personally signed off the visa granted to Mr Khatami.

"I was interested to hear what he had to say," Mr Bush explained. "I'm interested in learning more about the Iranian government, how they think, what people think within the government."

As Mr Khatami was leaving the US, the administration expressed mixed feelings about his trip.

In a telephone interview, deputy state department spokesman Tom Casey said he "appreciated" Mr Khatami's positive comments, including his condemnation of terrorism.

"Unfortunately many of those views that he did express here now as a private citizen were not reflective of the policies he pursued while he was in office," he said.

Still 'a player'

Nevertheless, President's Bush's decision to give Mr Khatami the visa "suggests an emerging flexibility or at least curiosity about what is going on in Iran", says Graham Allison of Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Mr Allison believes that Mr Khatami is still an important figure in Iranian politics.

"Our local assessment here is he [Khatami] is one of the top dozen or 15 players in a complicated system which we don't clearly understand," he said in a telephone interview.

In his opening remarks at the forum, Mr Allison, who had invited Mr Khatami to speak at the University's Kennedy School of Government said: "In the fifth year of the global war on terrorism, declared in response to the 11 September attacks, no geopolitical relationship between two nations is more important or more troubled than the relationship between the US and Iran."

In such an environment, Mr Khatami's visit is "a small straw in the wind," Mr Allison told the BBC.

Iran's Khatami calls for US talks
08 Sep 06 |  Americas
Iran's Khatami condemns US policy
03 Sep 06 |  Americas
Protests against Khatami US visa
31 Aug 06 |  Middle East

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