updated 9/11/2006 12:05:23 AM ET 2006-09-11T04:05:23

On the eve of the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, former Iranian president Mohammed Khatami condemned Osama bin Laden and suicide bombings but also defended groups such as Hezbollah for what he characterized as resistance against Israeli colonialism.

In a 30-minute speech given under tight security at Harvard University, Khatami repeatedly praised the concept of democracy but said American politicians, since World War II, have been infatuated with “world domination.”

Khatami, who spoke in Farsi and had his speech relayed through a translator, said he was one of the first world leaders to condemn “the barbarous acts” of Sept. 11. Responding to a question from the audience about bin Laden, Khatami said he had two problems with the al-Qaida leader behind the attacks.

“First, because of the crimes he conducts,” he said, “and second because he conducts them in the name of Islam, the religion which is a harbinger of peace and justice.”

Khatami also denied that Iran helps fund the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, but defended the organization’s right to exist. “Hezbollah today is a symbol of Lebanese resistance,” he said.

Met by protesters
Khatami was met by protesters when he arrived at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Many angrily called on him to stand up for human rights.

Police estimated that 200 were in the crowd that blamed him for failing to stop government crackdowns on student activists in Tehran during his two terms in office.

Several human rights organizations say the crackdowns are believed to have been initiated by his rivals and approved by Iran’s ruling Muslim clerics.

“His speech is on ethics and violence. It would be very bizarre if he came here to speak on ethics and violence and did not acknowledge and discuss his own record in Iran,” said Eric Lesser, 21, president of Harvard College Democrats, which teamed with their Republican peers for the protest.

There were no major problems, but police presence was heavy, Cambridge police spokesman Frank Pasquarello said. One man was detained, although it was not immediately clear why.

Khatami was considered a reformist during his two terms as president that ended last year. His visit to the United States has been criticized by many, particularly amid concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.

Harvard has been criticized for the timing of its invitation to Khatami, who is taking a two-week tour of the United States.

Harvard professor Graham Allison, who moderated the program, noted that the university officially will commemorate the Sept. 11 attacks and defended the invitation by citing President Bush’s remarks in a Wall Street Journal interview.

“I’m interested in learning more about Iran, the Iranian government and how they think,” Allison quoted Bush as saying. “So are we,” Allison added.

‘Dreams of world domination’
Khatami played to his Boston audience, glowingly referring to its historical roots even as he impugned the motives of modern U.S. leaders.

“The pleasant ring of the word Puritan has always delighted lovers of freedom and humanity. ... but politicians, after World War II, started to nurse dreams of world domination,” he said.

Khatami is the most senior Iranian to travel outside New York in the United States since Islamic fundamentalists seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held Americans hostage for 444 days. He was invited to the United States by the U.N.-sponsored Alliance of Civilizations, of which he is a founding member. The group strives to foster cross-cultural understanding between Western and Islamic states.

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