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Iranian leader: U.S. not ready for dialogue

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said Wednesday at the World Economic Forum that there was no chance for political talks with the United States because of a lack of respect.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami called for dialogue Wednesday as a solution to global conflicts but said he felt there was no chance for political talks with the United States because of a lack of respect for Tehran’s Islamic government.

“Partnership and security will only come about as a result of dialogue,” Khatami said in his keynote speech at the World Economic Forum, which drew warm applause.

At a news conference later, however, he made it clear that in relation to the United States, dialogue should start with cultural exchanges.

“The dialogue that I spoke of is between cultures and civilizations, between scholars and wise men,” Khatami said. “If those are realized, then we can have political dialogue as well.

“The prerequisite for any kind of dialogue is the mutual respect between the two partners to the dialogue. Any time we sense that the other side respects us and isn’t forcing anything on us, we are prepared to talk. We have not sensed that from the United States.”

Asked whether he would speak with Vice President Dick Cheney, who arrives later this week at the conference of government and business leaders, Khatami said he was speaking of a process that would begin with an exchange of scholars and improved cultural ties.

Free elections predicted
Khatami predicted that there would free elections in Iran next month and indicated that his reform movement would contest the balloting despite threats to resign over attempts by hard-liners to disqualify his allies.

“With the will of God, we will have a good election,” Khatami said.

Khatami, dressed in a black robe with a black turban, said in a veiled reference to the United States that military power had limits in bringing security.

“Military might may perhaps bring transient security,” he said. “But the gap between this type of security is the difference between a security based on armed peace and peace based on compassion and friendship toward humanity.”

Khatami laughed when he was asked whether he was “afraid” of a hard-line U.S. policy that President Bush claims forced Libya and Iran to back off attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Asked about reports that North Korea had supplied Iran with nuclear weapons technology, he said, “I categorically deny that there were nuclear shipments from North Korea to Iran.”

‘No chance’ for Mideast peace
Khatami told a small group of reporters after his news conference that Iranian officials had not had any contacts with Israeli officials following a recent appeal for dialogue by Israeli President Moshe Katzav.

He said he felt there was “no chance for peace in the Middle East” as long as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his followers were in power.

However, Khatami took a question from an Israeli reporter at the news conference and said Iran had a “moral issue” with Israel over the occupation of Palestinian land.

He said recognition of Israel would depend on the Palestinian people and “whatever they decide.”

Threats to peace and prosperity — especially in the Middle East — dominated the discussion as the annual Alpine gathering began.

Before meeting with Khatami, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw urged the United Nations to return to Iraq to help resolve a dispute over elections.

He defended the U.S.-led coalition’s decision to go to war and lobbied for international support in the postwar rebuilding.

“I am in no doubt that if we had sat on our hands and not acted, the world would be today a much more dangerous place,” Straw said.

He said he would press Khatami on the nuclear issue. A visit to Tehran by Straw and his French and German counterparts in October helped broker an agreement on U.N. access to Iran’s nuclear sites.

Plea for dialogue
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who took the stage shortly after Khatami, backed his sentiment for dialogue.

“When you care and share — which is partnership — then it strengthens the security, it strengthens the stability of that community,” he said.

Earlier, Straw expressed hope that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is due here Thursday, would support a U.S. and Iraqi request for U.N. experts to assess whether Iraq could hold elections in time for a transitional government to take over July 1.

“If there were to be a re-engagement of the U.N. and early appointment of highly qualified special representative, that could only assist in this process,” Straw said.

U.N. foreign staff pulled out of Iraq in October following two bombings at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, and security remains a concern.

A prominent Iraqi religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, has demanded direct elections, but U.S. and Iraqi officials want to use caucuses, saying early elections are not feasible.

Protesters who accuse the forum of being elitist and imperialist tried to stop participants from traveling up the Alps to Davos by blocking access to a main highway at the Zurich airport for about half an hour, police said. More demonstrations were planned Saturday, when Cheney is to speak.

Police evacuated part of a hotel in Davos on Wednesday morning after security services sweeping a room where a forum event was to be held found a firework. The session was held after an hour’s delay.