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Monday, May 24, 1999 Published at 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK

Iran's Khatami on Clinton conciliation, ties with Arab states

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami has said the United States should prove by deeds, not words, that it wants to change the two countries' relationship.

Responding to a statement by President Clinton in April that Iran had suffered abuse from Western nations, Mr Khatami told Qatari television that although Mr Clinton's remarks were " courageous" , better ties were possible only if the USA radically changed its policy.

Mr Khatami also discussed ties with Iran's Arab neighbours.

The following are excerpts from the interview, conducted by Faysal al-Qasim and Ghassan Bin Jiddu in Doha.

Clinton statement "courageous" (Bin Jiddu) US President Bill Clinton talked positively about Iran and the Iranian people and culture.

Do you not think that this positive statement by Clinton requires a positive reply from you? (Khatami) In his statement, Clinton referred to an important and basic issue, which, if handled and settled, will mean many issues will subsequently be resolved... Clinton's statement that we did wrong things, that the West did wrong things, and that there have been issues over the past 50 years about which the Islamic and underprivileged countries have the right to feel angry and dismayed, is true.

I believe this is a new stand.

If he is serious about this matter, however, we can work on it and there can be new relations in the future on the international level - between the east and West and the Islamic and Western worlds.

This serves the interest of the entire world.

I believe Clinton's point of view is courageous regardless of the motives and to what extent it can be tactical or convincing.

I do not want to engage in this issue, but I want to say that this personal viewpoint cannot easily change the traditional policies of the United States on Iran, the Middle East and the Islamic world.

The problem lies in the traditional policies of the United States, which unilaterally imposes its viewpoints, believes that other countries revolve in its orbit, and asks those countries to pursue its policies.

Calls for radical change in US policy The conduct of the United States towards Iran and the others has thus far not been sound.

It is the conduct of a power that has the right to say anything, but insist the others should submit to it.

This relationship and this basis of action must change.

Regarding our relations with the United States, we have not been unfair to it.

In fact, it exercised injustice against us.

This injustice and these policies, which the US president says that we in Iran should apologize for - if this (Clinton's statement) was not mere talk and was actually a sign of a major change in the US policy, and if action on the ground changes, then it will be possible to build on this and expect another kind of international relations between the Islamic world and the West, between the Islamic world and the United States, and between Iran and the United States.

This must be tested in practice, however... The policy of imposing US standards on the world by force is rejected.

The conduct must also change.

There must be a feeling based on a radical change of policy, not only in words and statements.

I believe that the traditional policies of the United States are stronger than to be changed by such statements... If there is a change in the thought and impression of public opinion, which is the basis of foreign policy and which politicians take into consideration, then that will change the US government's political conduct.

If that conduct changes, then views will change, and consequently we can expect a better relationship for all mankind.

Saudi-Iranian ties "can bear more fruit" (Bin Jiddu) Your relations with Saudi Arabia have witnessed a tangible improvement during the past two or three years... Are you willing or planning to forge a strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia, especially since you say that Saudi Arabia and Iran are the two poles of this region? (Khatami) The path we have gone down can bear more fruit than it has yielded so far.

We hope to reach that stage, but there is a long way to go.

We have to remove barriers on the road.

What is important is that all the countries in the region realize that regional security is linked to the region itself and that no country can expect security for itself without there being security in the neighbouring countries.

If we look carefully, we will find that the issue of development is a top priority.

In this respect, we have to compensate for the many cases of our backwardness and use the capabilities God granted us to make a better life.

Development should be comprehensive and not only economic, political or cultural.

If one people are deprived of freedom and the right to self-determination - even if they have good financial capabilities - they will not enjoy a balanced life.

Region should be free from foreign intervention The existence of foreign military troops constitutes a source of further tension.

In order to remain for a longer period in the region, they might want to raise disputes among regional countries.

We have to be wary about this and prove that we have reached a degree of maturity that enables us to provide security for our countries by ourselves.

I hope that we will be able in the future to crystallize several agreements and alliances to keep the region's security away from foreign intervention.

I also hope that we will be able to achieve this aspired goal through reliance on the great resources and energies of the peoples and countries of the region.

Our efforts are devoted to this objective.

Rejects "US definition of terrorism" on Palestine question (Bin Jiddu) ... Last week, you met Palestinian opposition factions in Damascus.

Martin Indyk, an aide to Albright, unequivocally said: We regard the meeting between President Mohammad Khatami and the Palestinian opposition groups, which he described as terrorist, as a No to our call for dialogue.

Was the statement by Martin Indyk true? Does this mean that President Mohammad Khatami is opposed to dialogue, or that Iran is opposed to political dialogue with the United States at present? You have always said that the United States must demonstrate its seriousness.

Mr President: We would like to know what the US administration, what Washington, is required to do to demonstrate its seriousness and credibility to with the Islamic Republic? (Khatami) This conduct by the Americans is an example of the misunderstanding between us and the United States.

It nurtures our pessimism.

For a country to disavow all of its principles, yardsticks and ways of examining things just to meet US requirements is an example of a lopsided reconciliation, in which one side is forcing whatever it wishes while the other is surrendering.

We have our issues and views.

Iran rejects that its relations with the United States be based on the US definition of terrorism and we do not accept this condition at all.

We have our definition of terrorism and we are against terrorism, and we are a victim of terrorism... Undoubtedly, there is repression in Palestine and there is torture and restriction of freedom.

The situation of the Palestinian people, the Arabs and the Palestinian Muslims in Palestine is bad.

There are people who call for the liberation of their lands and for a normal life in the lands of their fathers and forefathers.

It is natural that they struggle, and you cannot describe their struggle as terrorism even if the United States calls this terrorism.

It is natural that we support any human endeavour that is carried out with the aim of confronting the land usurpation and resisting injustice.

This does not mean that we extend military support.

We only extend political support and this is our principle in which we believe .

Peace will not prevail before the rights of the Palestinian people are recognized, whether the United States and the others want this or not... Relations with Iraq (Qasim) Mr President, why have Iran's relations with Iraq not improved? We know that there are some Iraqi planes in Iran that have not been returned.

At the same time, there are people who say that the US policy to contain Iraq and cut it down to size in the region is ctually in line with Iranian policy, which is why Iran has not criticized the operations by the US and British planes over northern and southern Iraq, or it criticizes them in a subdued manner. (Khatami) The eight-year war and the bloodshed and destruction it left behind have distanced us from Iraq.

This war greatly harmed our relations with Iraq.

In spite of this, we decided to transform the war and its remaining effects and change the enmity resulting from it into some kind of accord and mutual respect.

We have made some strides in this respect after the war.

Huge efforts were exerted during his Excellency Hashemi-Rafsanjani's term in office.

These efforts have been continuing until now.

We believe that we have made tangible progress in this field.

If you expect all effects of the war and the bloodshed, which lasted eight years, to be erased during a period of one or two months or even one year, this will be a misplaced expectation.

The important thing is to see whether we achieved progress in this field or not.

The answer is that we have achieved much progress and our relations with Iraq have greatly changed.

We are pursuing the dialogue with them... Our relations with Iraq, in spite of all the problems that were outstanding, some of which are still there, are proceeding towards settlement and negotiations continue.

The steps we made were more than expected from two countries that have been enemies and who had waged war for eight years.

We hope that we will achieve more success in the future.

Ties with Egypt (Qasim) Your Excellency, why have relations with Egypt not yet improved? What are the obstacles to improving relations between Iran and Egypt? Some sides say that Iran extended much aid to Egypt in the past, but Egypt is still hesitant regarding the improvement of its relations with Iran.

What is taking place between these two countries? (Khatami) If you examine the issue from historical and cultural aspects, you will see that the peoples of Egypt and Iran played a major role in entrenching the pillars of the Islamic civilization and in spreading this civilization.

Today, we believe that these two peoples are getting closer to each other on the cultural, historical, ideological, and moral levels.

We really respect the Egyptian people, their struggle, and status throughout history and in the contemporary world.

We also believe that we enjoy an important status in the contemporary world and throughout history.

Regrettably, the existing policies and the differences between the two countries, as well as their repercussions, led to political estrangement between the two countries.

What I want to say is that we are making steps to improve our relations with Egypt.

This improvement should basically lead to further contacts between the Egyptian and Iranian people and pave the way for such contacts between thinkers and economic institutions.

We have made good steps in this field.

We hope that we will be successful in further improving relations.

I believe that the two sides want to settle differences, but there are problems on which we hope a solution can be reached between the two sides, God willing...

BBC Monitoring (, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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