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March 99, Week 2
|Pope Blesses Iran President
|Pope-Khatami meeting 'Promising'
|Iran's President Stresses Bonds Between Faiths
|Khatami Urges West for Dialog
|Iranian president opens historic trip to Italy
|Iranian leader Khatami to meet pope
|Letter From Iran
|Iranian Morality Tale
|Khatemi Calls For Closer Ties to West
|Iran tells U.S. to lift economic sanctions
|Iran's Khatami on ground-breaking visit to West
|IRANIAN PRESIDENT TO VISIT MIDEAST, EUROPEAN Countries
Pope Blesses Iran President
By Candice Hughes
Associated Press Writer
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Proclaiming it an ``important and promising day,'' Pope John Paul II blessed Iran's reform-minded president on Thursday at the end of his groundbreaking visit to the West.
President Mohammad Khatami, a moderate cleric, came bearing a message of detente and dialogue that was warmly received. But the Vatican also raised the issue of human rights, as did the president's Italian hosts.
John Paul and the Iranian president spent 25 minutes together in the pope's private library.
``At the end of my stay in Italy, and after this meeting with you, I return to my country and people full of hope for the future,'' Khatami said afterward.
His three-day trip is the first state visit to a Western nation by an Iranian president since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
The emphasis Thursday was on a greater understanding between Islam and Christianity, part of Khatami's call for a ``dialogue among civilizations, cultures and religions.''
The 78-year-old pope and the 56-year-old Muslim cleric had much common ground.
Both were students of philosophy as well as theology, and their writings reveal a deep mystical streak. Both see religion as the only antidote to the ills of modern life.
``The hope is for the final victory of monotheism, morality, peace and reconciliation,'' Khatami said.
The Vatican was clearly pleased with the meeting; its official communique called it a warm encounter based on ``a spirit of dialogue between Muslims and Christians.''
Khatami's visit also bore more prosaic -- but highly important -- fruit.
Iran's deputy oil minister, Mehdi Hosseini, said Italy's state energy company ENI had proposed oil production deals worth $2 billion to $3 billion. Hosseini also said petrochemical projects were discussed.
But the symbolism-packed Vatican meeting was the highlight.
The scene when the pope greeted Khatami's delegation, which included three dark-robed Muslim clerics, was striking. One cleric even kissed John Paul on the cheek -- after asking his permission.
There was also a ritual exchange of gifts: A painting of Sts. Peter and Paul for the president; a Persian rug depicting St. Mark's Basilica in Venice for the pope.
Khatami said he'd pray for the pope -- and asked John Paul to pray for him.
The Iranian president is fighting a tough battle back home, where the conservative clerics who control parliament, the security forces and the judiciary bitterly oppose many of his reforms.
Iran's economy is also in trouble because of the slump in oil prices, and the trip was aimed at improving relations with the entire European Union. He plans to visit France soon.
Throughout his visit, Khatami worked hard to portray Iran as a young, dynamic nation eager to embrace progress and democracy while remaining true to its faith and traditions.
He painted a vision of an Islam of love and tolerance -- a far cry from the strident rhetoric of some of his predecessors -- and disavowed terrorism and violence.
Vatican concerns over human rights in Iran and the treatment of its tiny Catholic community were discussed during Khatami's meeting with the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, following the papal audience.
There are about 120,000 Christians in Iran, about 13,000 of them Catholics.
Fides, the news agency of the Vatican's missionary arm, says Iranian Christians are free to worship inside their churches but their activities are watched and they are barred from serving in the government and armed forces.
St. Peter's Square was off-limits to tourists as part of extremely tight security, but somehow about 50 chanting anti-Khatami protesters got in and were surrounded by about as many police officers.
The Iranian opposition in exile staged demonstrations throughout the trip. Several protesters were arrested.
Pope-Khatami meeting 'Promising'
(CNN) -- Pope John Paul II and Iran's President
Mohammad Khatami emerged from a private talk Thursday with a
positive message for Christian-Islamic relations.
After their 25-minute meeting in the pope's library, John Paul called it "an important, promising day."
"The hope is for the final victory of monotheism, morality, peace and reconciliation," Khatami said, as he left the library.
He asked John Paul to pray for him.
Khatami and John Paul appeared relaxed and pleased as they exchanged small gifts after their meeting, although the chanting of Iranian dissidents outside in St. Peter's Square could be heard.
Khatami, who arrived in Italy on Tuesday for a state visit, is pushing for closer relations with the West and more social and political freedom but he faces stiff opposition from the conservative clerics who control parliament, the security forces and the judiciary.
Although security was tight for his Italy visit, about 50 chanting anti-Khatami protesters managed to get through a police blockade and enter St. Peter's Square.
Khatami, a moderate cleric, spoke Wednesday in a conciliatory way to Western religions.
"All the divine religions are not quintessentially different," Khatami said in an address at the European University Institute at Fiesole, outside Florence.
The pope has long made his own efforts to stress the common bonds and beliefs in Christianity, Islam and other faiths.
Iran's chairmanship of the 54-nation Islamic Conference gave extra weight to the pope's meeting with Khatami, a mid-level Shiite cleric. Islam and the Roman Catholic Church claim 1 billion adherents each.
Khatami visited the United Nations in New York last year, but the Italy trip is the first official visit by an Iranian leader to a Western nation since his country's Islamic Revolution in 1979.
He was to travel back to Iran later Thursday.
Iran's President Stresses Bonds Between Faiths
FIESOLE, Italy (AP) -- Closing his Western visit, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami sought common
ground among the world's religions, declaring ahead of an audience with the pope that all
faiths are not "quintessentially different."
After reaching out to the West during his Italy trip, Khatami was doing the same for followers of Western religions -- in tones far more moderate than the West has been accustomed to hearing from Iranian leaders.
"All the divine religions are not quintessentially different," Khatami declared in an address Wednesday at the European University Institute at Fiesole, outside Florence.
Pope John Paul II long has made his own efforts to stress the common bonds and beliefs in Christianity, Islam and other faiths.
There has been speculation that today's scheduled audience could be a prelude to a brief papal stopover in Iran during an expected trip to Asia later this year.
Pope Paul VI stopped in Tehran in 1970, when the country was ruled by the shah.
Khatami, 56, is pushing for more social and political freedom in Iran, but faces stiff opposition from the conservative clerics who control parliament, the security forces and the judiciary.
He visited the United Nations last year, but the Italy trip is the first official visit by an Iranian leader to a Western nation since his country's Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Iran's chairmanship of the 54-nation Islamic Conference gives extra weight to the pope's meeting with Khatami, a mid-level Shiite cleric. Islam and the Roman Catholic Church claim 1 billion adherents each.
"The meeting with the pope, therefore, assumes capital importance," the Vatican's ambassador to Iran, Archbishop Romeo Panciroli, told Vatican Radio.
The pope is expected to press Khatami to allow Iran's small Christian minority more rights.
At the same time, the Vatican welcomes what Khatami calls his beginning of a "dialogue between civilizations and countries and different people and cultures."
The Vatican has rejected criticism of the papal audience from the Iranian opposition in exile.
"The pope opens his arms to all those who seek an audience," the Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, said this week.
Christians in Iran number only 120,000. About 13,000 of them Catholics.
According to Fides, the news agency of the Vatican's missionary arm, Christians in Iran are free to worship inside their churches but their activities are strictly watched and they are denied some civil rights -- barred from serving in the armed forces and government posts.
In his visit, as in his presidency, Khatami has repeatedly pushed for more open relations with the West.
"Islam and Europe must, by force of historical and geographic circumstance, get to know one another better, and then move on to improve their political, culture and economic relations," he said in his speech Wednesday.
Twice during the roughly 30-minute address, Iranian dissidents in exile got into the inner courtyard of the building, shouting "Death to Khatami!" Police dragged them away.
Earlier Wednesday, in Rome, Khatami's car was splattered with eggs and several protesters were arrested.
Wednesday also brought an awkward overlap with an Italian visit by Salman Rushdie, who appeared at the University of Turin to accept an honorary degree.
In hiding from Iranian religious hard-liners' death edict, Rushdie said Khatami gave him some hope for change in Iran -- but pointedly noted Khatami didn't represent the views of all Iran.
Khatami was to travel back to Iran later today, ending the three-day trip.
Khatami Urges West for Dialog
ROME - XINHUA - Visiting Iranian President Mohammad Khatami
said Wednesday that Europe and the United States should regard Iran not
as an object for study but as a partner for dialog on an equal footing.
Speaking at the European University Institute in the Italian central city of Florence, Khatami said the dialog he envisions would not be possible with "those who feel they have an exclusive hold on the truth."
Only dialog on an equal basis will allow the West and Iran to contribute to the construction of peace, security and justice, he said.
He said that 20 years after the Iranian revolution, he has come to Europe as the representative of "a civilization" which is needed in achieving a global balance.
Khatami, on second day of the first visit to Europe by an Iranian leader since the 1979 overthrow of the Shah, also noted that his call for dialog in his message to Europe was not unilateral.
He praised Italy as a model for tolerance which he has in mind for underpinning mutual understanding and dialog.
Iranian president opens historic trip to Italy
ROME (CNN) -- Launching the first state visit by an Iranian leader to a Western nation in two decades,
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami declared the dawn of a new era of detente on Tuesday, calling for a more equal world order.
In his first major speech at the start of a three-day visit to Italy and the Vatican, Khatami spoke to deputies and senators in Rome's Montecitorio parliament building, urging powerful nations to help weaker ones.
"Adopting unequal measures as the foundation for relations between countries and transforming ties between East and West into a class struggle between oppressors and oppressed has done nothing other than create armed peace, brutality, conflicts and terrorism," Khatami said.
The Iranian president later attended a state dinner hosted by Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, where he added that Iran has no "intentions of hostility with any country."
But, he added, according to an advance text, "Iran demands rational, healthy relations" based on "mutual respect and non-interference."
Both Italy and Iran have described Khatami's visit as historic, and Khatami's trip was widely seen as opening a new era in relations between the Islamic state and Europe.
Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini -- regarded as the main architect in paving the way for Khatami's visit -- welcomed the Iranian leader at the airport, along with a high-ranking Vatican representative.
Thousands of police were deployed in a massive security operation, tangling Rome's traffic for much of the day. Helicopters throbbed overhead as speeding motorcades whisked the black-robed, black-turbaned Khatami from meeting to meeting.
In the shadow of the Coliseum, thousands of Iranian exiles and their Italian supporters protested the visit, carrying banners, torches and pictures of executed loved ones. They allege that more than 300 people have been publicly executed, nine people stoned to death and 28 dissidents assassinated abroad since Khatami came to power 21 months ago.
In a protest in Amsterdam, seven Iranians occupied Italy's consulate for about an hour before leaving peacefully. Police were called to the scene but made no arrests.
Khatami, a moderate cleric pushing for social and democratic reforms at home, had ventured West just once since his election in 1997 -- to the United Nations last September.
In a groundbreaking address, Khatami called for a "dialogue among civilizations" instead of confrontation. His trip to Rome and his planned meeting with Pope John Paul II are seen as the beginning of that dialogue.
Iran's chairmanship of the 54-nation Islamic Conference gives special weight to Thursday's papal audience.
The meeting "is of capital importance to the Islamic-Christian dialogue," said the pope's ambassador to Iran, Archbishop Romeo Panciroli.
The Roman Catholic Church and Islam each claim some 1 billion faithful, making them the largest religious groups in the world.
Although the two religions are ancient rivals, the pope has tried to repair relations. And he and Khatami share a conviction that religion is the only antidote to the ills of modern life.
An urbane and engaging man who has lived abroad, the 56-year-old Khatami is popular with ordinary Iranians. He was elected with 67 percent of the vote in 1997 and reformers swept the recent local elections.
But, Dini warned, "the risks of backsliding are ever present."
He said last week that Khatami was still constrained in his actions by conservatives and a traditionalist clergy and therefore had to tread carefully as far as Western-style reforms were concerned.
Italy regards Iran as key to Middle East stability and has long tried to serve as a bridge between it and the West. Dini was in Tehran in February, and in July, then-Premier Romano Prodi was the first Western leader to visit in six years.
Iran is also a key trading partner of Italy's; Tehran is Italy's third largest oil supplier after Libya and Saudi Arabia.
Last week, Italy's AGIP and France's Elf Aquitaine oil companies signed a $1 billion oil deal with Iran -- despite a long-standing threat of U.S. sanctions against nations doing business with Iran.
The United States is less convinced than Europe that Khatami represents a new era in Iran, which it accuses of supporting terrorism and trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction.
Iranian leader Khatami to meet pope
VATICAN CITY (CNN) - Iranian President Mohammad Khatami takes his revolution of openness to the Vatican on Thursday for a historic meeting with Pope John Paul II.
Making the first state visit to the West by an Iranian president since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Khatami also becomes Iran's most senior religious leader to visit the pope.
Since his election in 1997, Khatami, a moderate Shiite Muslim cleric and scholar of Western philosophy, has often called for a "dialogue of civilizations."
He perhaps will find no more fitting a place for that than at the Vatican, a cradle of Christian culture.
Since there are no major outstanding problems between the Vatican and Iran, whose only 13,000 Roman Catholics would fit into a Vatican hall, the visit is expected to be more one of sweeping symbolism than substance.
The Vatican wants Iran, which has vast influence in the Muslim world, to open up more to the West, disown international terrorism and improve its human rights record.
"The meeting betwen the Iranian president and the Pope is of primary importance for dialogue between Islam and Christianity," Archbishop Romeo Panciroli, the Vatican's envoy to Tehran, told Fides, the news agency of the Vatican's missionary arm.
"Iran is a leader of the Islamic world, with a great influence over the Middle East."
Khatami will be the first president of the 55-nation Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) to meet the Pontiff, Panciroli said.
"The significance of this meeting for relations between the two religions is truly great," he said.
Relations between Catholicism and Islam around the world are mixed. Unlike Catholicism, Islam has no central structure and inter-faith relations can be good in one nation, bad in another.
Relations between Muslims and the Christian minority in Iran are generally good, but officials hope the meeting between the pope and Khatami will have broader, long-term results.
"A meeting of this kind does not bear immediate fruit but in the long term it creates a fertile ground for dialogue. There is a change of attitude towards Christians which leads one to be hopeful," Panciroli said.
In an interview with Reuters, Iran's ambassador to the Vatican Mohammad Hadi Abedekhoda'i said Iran was certainly opening up to the West but the West was also rediscovering Iran.
"The West certainly has realized that in the Middle East, Iran is a great country endowed with precious resources and great potential in an area that is geographically strategic and very politically and socially important," he said. "This is why the West wants to improve relations with it."
"Today, the countries of the world intend to establish more relations with Iran, because they have understood the importance of this nation," said Abedekhoda'i, an Islamic theologian.
The exiled opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran wrote to the pope asking him not to meet Khatami and listing 3,208 political prisoners it says have been killed in Iran.
The Vatican's position is that the pope will talk to even the most controversial figures and use the opportunity to discuss delicate issues such as human rights.
Police, meanwhile, detained three protesters and eggs were hurled at the car of Iran's president Wednesday as protests continued on the second day of Khatami's groundbreaking visit to Italy.
Three men, believed to be Iranians, were detained in a square near central Piazza Venezia, where Khatami, in a ceremony with Italy's defense minister, laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The three were inflating large balloons and had a banner.
Police said that in another incident eggs were thrown at Khatami's car as he was driven through downtown en route to a meeting with Italy's premier.
Letter From Iran
By Howard Schneider
Washington Post Foreign Service
TEHRAN-"In the name of God, welcome to Ibrahim Zadeh's computer. With hope full for nice days."
The synthesis of religion and modernity that often defines Iran under Mohammed Khatemi, its reform-minded president, is neatly captured by the screen saver on Ibrahim Zadeh's terminal in the basement of the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.
With a bright smile beaming from within the hood of her black chador, Zadeh is the technician who makes sure that foreign journalists visiting the Islamic Republic of Iran have access to the Internet. She provides it from their own computers in their hotel rooms over a local phone line, at no charge.
If there are software problems, she'll fix them, adjusting phone numbers and modem settings as the situation requires. It is a service not only sanctioned, but encouraged by her boss, Hossein Nosrat, who chuckles with satisfaction as he invites reporters into his office to try out the new connection, fooling with phone lines and tinkering with things himself.
It's all a bit disorienting. Iran's clerical leaders have long warned of the threat to their Islamic revolution posed by the "Western cultural invasion" -- in other words, everything the Internet seems to represent.
But the government's embrace of the Internet raises few eyebrows here. Increasingly, surprises such as local Internet access -- and competent staff to support it -- are becoming the norm.
Iran is hardly an open society. Although Iranians can set up their own Internet accounts, they typically have to state a "legitimate" business or professional purpose for doing so. Some providers censor their service using U.S.-made software that screens out Web sites dealing with alcohol, pornography and violence.
Still, the availability of the Internet here is an important step -- and one mirrored elsewhere in Iranian life. Signs of increasing openness include the resurrection of an old blackface theater style at one local restaurant -- where the chief character wiggles his bottom freely before a mixed-sex audience and cracks bawdy jokes -- and the reappearance (to loud applause) of previously discouraged nationalist songs in musical performances. There are even reports of revealing bathing suits in the women's section of a popular Persian Gulf resort.
"At the beginning of the revolution, such a type of theater was forbidden, but little by little it has changed," said Gholam Baboteh, one of the actors in the three-person "black play," a centuries-old theater form in which a tyrannical master is outwitted by his seemingly buffoonish slave.
The slow opening of Iranian society is even evident in the streets. It is possible, for example, to see young, unmarried couples holding hands in public parks and restaurants apparently without fear of harassment by the notorious morality police. Khatemi has explicitly put those forces on notice to leave people alone.
Such gains are always subject to reversal in Iran, where several liberal intellectuals recently have been killed by assassins described by the government as rogue intelligence agents.
Nevertheless, according to the latest U.N. Human Rights Commission report on Iran: "Progress continued to be made toward President Khatemi's goal of a civil society -- tolerant, diverse and operating within the rule of law."
The change in atmosphere is evident on the ski slopes of Dizin, a resort in the Alborz Mountains near Tehran, where skiers of both sexes interact with surprising nonchalance, largely ignoring rules that supposedly restrict them to segregated lifts and slopes.
Female heads are still covered, but not with the traditional scarves and hoods. The dress is strictly ski-resort chic -- bright vests and wool hats -- and the makeup is sometimes thick.
In the privacy of the lifts, young men talk about Dizin as a place where the girls can look their most beautiful. The son of a diplomat told how young people's parties are lasting later into the night, with less and less intrusion.
Compared with some other Middle East cities, even internal security seems in some ways relaxed. About 30 miles outside Tehran recently, a policeman appeared and ordered a cab carrying an American journalist to the side of the road, prompting everyone to begin reaching for their passports and visas and permission slips and identity cards. But not to worry. The policeman was not interested in any of that. He just wanted to remind the cabbie that his vehicle inspection sticker had expired.
Iranian Morality Tale
Tehran- THE CANDIDATES identified with reform in Iran seem to have prevailed in the first local elections since the Islamic revolution in 1979. A 90 percent turnout gave candidates supporting President Mohammed Khatemi a formidable 70 percent of the vote for seats that were chartered in the Iranian constitution but previously had not been filled. In a view that has gained broad support in the West, the vote bespeaks popular confidence in a by-now proven moderate who has put a popular foundation under his brave challenge of the hard-line fundamentalists in Tehran. To some, this is the time to end diplomatic hesitation and, by lifting the American embargo, to back Iran's reformers in their effort to join the West.
But is it so simple as that? There appears to be a certain aspect of a good guy, bad guy morality tale to the conventional view of Iranian politics. There is no denying the bravery of the "reformers," especially of the street demonstrators, including many women, an abused class in Iran. President Khatemi has his own place among the reformers. However, only the lower ramparts of government appear to be open to democratic procedure. The upper ramparts -- including parliament, the intelligence and judicial systems, the foreign policy apparatus and the security and defense establishments -- apparently stay under the traditional-clerical control of the man called supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Just weeks ago an ugly sequence of killings, stabbings and mysterious deaths unfolded among well-known dissidents and writers in Iran. A near-public tug of war then took place between elements in the Islamic hierarchy trying to cover up these crimes and elements trying to bring the offenders to justice. What was at stake here was something essential to a modern society, the application of the rule of law. On that issue, President Khatemi was plainly on the right side.
The rule of law would no doubt be greeted with deep satisfaction by many Iranian citizens. Some, however, might be even more pleased to be living under a system whose law they had had a hand in approving. As for Mr. Khatemi, it seems he favors not simply the rule of law but the rule of Islamic law. Whether that is the Iranian people's emerging preference remains to be tested.
Nor are the foreign, defense and security policies of Iran currently under democratic governance: not its support of terrorism in the terrorism-soaked Middle East, nor its hostility to the flawed but still live peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, nor its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.
Europe is impatient to get back to business as usual with Iran. Many Europeans dismiss American reluctance to jump into the fast lane of normalization as an emotional overreaction to Iran's kidnapping of American diplomats in 1979. Perhaps there is a bit of a kidnapping factor in the American attitude. But there is also concern for the harsh Iranian policies that remain in place two decades later.
Khatemi Calls For Closer Ties to West
By R. Jeffrey Smith and Sarah Delaney
Washington Post Foreign Service
ROME-Iranian President Mohammed Khatemi began the first visit to the West by an Iranian leader in two decades today, telling his Italian hosts that Europe and the Islamic world should work together to foster a civil society based on "universal justice and liberty."
Khatemi was received with full honors by President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro and members of the Italian parliament, but several thousand Iranian exiles staged a peaceful rally at the Coliseum to protest the visit and demand an end to human rights abuses in Iran. Security was tight throughout the city, and 320 legislators released a joint statement declaring that they oppose the visit out of fear it could help legitimize the political power of hard-line Muslim clerics in Iran.
Khatemi, a politically moderate cleric who frequently has been at odds with hard-liners in the Iranian parliament, is the most senior Iranian official to visit a Western country since the Islamic Revolution ushered in Tehran's theocratic regime in 1979.
His three-day visit to Rome and the Vatican and a planned trip to France have attracted nervous interest in Washington; President Clinton last week asked Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema to provide him with an account of its outcome, and Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott conferred with Italian officials about the visit this week.
U.S. officials said they have told the Italian government that they are eager for the visit to go well so that Khatemi's position is strengthened at home. Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini expressed a similar view, telling a television interviewer this week that "we must help them to come out of isolation; Iran can be a great stabilizing force in the area."
Dini and other Italian officials have expressed pride that Khatemi came here first and sketched out a role for Italy as a bridge between Iran and other Western nations. They also pledged to reiterate European demands for improvements in human rights' protections in Iran.
But Italian conservative legislators, such as Marco Taradash, a member of the opposition Forza Italia party, have accused the government of "giving credit to [Iran] without asking for anything in return. . . . Nothing has changed there as far as human liberties go. We say business, yes -- in exchange for human rights."
During his visit, Khatemi is scheduled to meet with Pope John Paul II and to deliver a speech at the European University in Florence. But if the first day is any indication, Khatemi does not plan to announce any major policy shifts. He gave an elliptical speech to members of parliament in which he warned against "hegemony" by unnamed countries and suggested that "a united world . . . is not a world based on unlimited dominion of the great powers, a world of societies that are divided and suffering because they are oppressed and weak."
The Clinton administration has made clear it is not enthusiastic about Khatemi's efforts to use his trip as a way of attracting new investment for his cash-strapped nation. Already, two Italian and French oil firms have announced a $1 billion plan to boost Iranian oil production, and Khatemi is slated to meet Thursday with leaders of Italian industry to press for additional commercial ties.
"We are both disappointed and concerned," State Department spokesman James Foley said when the oil deal was announced last week. He said such transactions strengthen those Iranians "who argue that Iran can get what it wants from the West without changing its policies." Undersecretary of State Stuart E. Eizenstat said Monday that "at very very senior levels of our government . . . we urged for months that [the oil deal] not go forward."
Although the deal will be reviewed in Washington under a U.S. law that mandates economic sanctions on firms that make large investments in Iran's petroleum industry, officials said Clinton is likely to waive such penalties under an agreement that exempts European Union companies in exchange for tighter controls on technology exports to Iran.
In congressional testimony last month, CIA director George Tenet gave a mixed assessment of Iran's activities since Khatemi's election in 1997, saying "some positive changes" had occurred there that could diminish U.S.-Iranian friction. But he said that internal conflicts in Iran are becoming sharper and predicted the country would face more turmoil this year than any time since the 1979 revolution.
Tenet said also that Iran is accelerating its development of a long-range missile and continuing to work on nuclear-related technology. He noted too that hard-liners are still in control of key Iranian security institutions and declared: "We have yet to see any significant reduction in Iran's support for terrorism."
Iran tells U.S. to lift economic sanctions
TEHRAN, (Reuters) - Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi urged the United States
on Sunday to lift sanctions on trade and investment with the Islamic republic, saying past
policies have reached a dead end.
"There is no way out for the Americans but to change sanctions policies. It's time they returned to logic and wisdom, as present policies mean nothing but losses for American companies," Kharrazi told a news conference.
"The reality today is that Europe is ready to violate unilateral U.S. sanctions and American companies are keen on participating in Iranian deals," he added.
His comments came after Iran's $1 billion oil deal with European oil giants ENI and Elf Aquitaine, signed on March 1, to develop an offshore oil field here in defiance of American sanctions, which went into effect in August 1997.
The law, which followed a unilateral economic embargo imposed on Iran by the United States in June 1995, seeks to penalize non-American companies which invest more than $20 billion in Iran's energy sector.
But Washington has in the past hesitated to enforce such penalties, fearing possible economic war with European partners.
The U.S. government has also come under pressure from its own companies, mainly oil firms, to revise its Iran policy.
Kharrazi said American firms would be welcome to bid for future oil and gas projects offered by his country.
"We welcome all foreign firms and there is no ban against American companies," he said.
Iran, a major player in the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), wants to attract Western funds and technology to help exploration and rejuvenate ageing fields.
The country owns the second largest gas reserves in the world after Russia, many of which are untapped.
Iran's Khatami on ground-breaking visit to West
In TEHRAN story headlined "Iran's Khatami on ground-breaking visit to West" please read in first paragraph ...when he travels to Rome and the Vatican on the first visit...instead of...when he travels to Rome, the Vatican and Paris on the first visit... (deleting reference to Paris), and in the third paragraph please read...expected to meet Pope John Paul...instead of...expected to meet Pope John Paul before travelling to Paris on March 11. (deletes reference to Paris)
A corrected version follows
By Jonathan Lyons
TEHRAN, March 7 (Reuters) - President Mohammad Khatami opens a new era in the history of post-revolutionary Iran this week when he travels to Rome and the Vatican on the first visit to Europe by a head of state from the Islamic Republic.
Khatami, fresh from a run of domestic political victories, will seek to cement budding commercial and political ties to Italy and the European Union beyond.
The president, a moderate Shi'ite Moslem cleric and student of western philosophy, lands in Italy on Tuesday and is expected to meet Pope John Paul.
Analysts say the trip will boost Khatami's calls for a "Dialogue of Civilisations" with Iran's traditional antagonists in the West, many of whom are still wary of what they see as Tehran's support for international terrorism, its poor human rights record and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.
"This presents the perfect opportunity for Khatami to start to change people's minds about Iran," said a senior European diplomat. "The West needs to see that the changes at home are genuine."
Iranian newspapers have hailed the trip as a turning point in relations with the West, saying Iran's first ever local elections last month have strengthened Khatami at home.
"The success of the reformers in the local polls will pave the way for Khatami to carry forward his foreign policies," said the pro-reform daily Salam. "It will help him to act with greater authority based on his popular support."
Khatami has campaigned since his election 21 months ago for the creation of a civil society and the rule of law within the existing Islamic system, steps he says will improve life at home and ease Iran's re-entry into the global community of nations.
Khatami and his reformist allies got a big boost last week when European oil giants ENI and Elf Aquitaine signed a $1 billion deal to develop Iran's offshore Doroud oil field. The deal flies in the face of U.S. sanctions which target firms that invest more than $20 million in Iran's oil or gas sectors.
Senior ministers say they expect the talks to underscore Iran's steady opening to Europe at the expense of one-time strategic and economic partner the United States, whose policy of trade sanctions has sidelined American business.
Iran's budget calls for billions in new foreign investment, badly needed at time of low world prices for its chief product, oil, and a general economic malaise gripping the economy.
However, commentators say Italy was chosen as the jumping-off point of the Western campaign as much for its spiritual significance as its investment potential.
"President Khatami's meeting with Pope John Paul II will be the first step toward a dialogue between Christianity and Islam and will lead to further dialogues with other nations, religions and civilisations," said an editorial in the Iran News, close to the foreign policy apparatus.
"He chose Italy for his first visit to prove that he is serious about his intention to create a dialogue with other civilisations."
Nevertheless, he will find it hard to forget his problems at home, especially a row over the detention of a leading reformist theologian and presidential adviser.
Rallies planned in 10 cities in defence of the imprisoned cleric, Mohsen Kadivar, were cancelled at the weekend after moderates said hardliners could orchestrate a crackdown to embarrass Khatami on the eve of his trip.
IRANIAN PRESIDENT TO VISIT MIDEAST, EUROPEAN Countries
TEHRAN -XINHUA - Iranian President Mohammad Khatami will
visit several Middle East and European countries in the near future as
part of his efforts to establish new relations with other countries.
"After his visit to Rome, Mr. Khatami will go to Damascus and then to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia," local daily Tehran Times on Saturday quoted an Iranian official as saying.
"These visits by Mr. Khatami are important," the official told the daily on condition of anonymity. Oil prices, security of the region and mutual cooperation in economic and commercial areas will be on the agenda of Khatami's visits.
The report did not elaborate the exact dates of Khatami's visits but said that the president will arrive in Rome next week and will meet with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. Meanwhile, some reports said that he will also visit France on April 12.
It will be Khatami's first multi-nation tour to the Middle East and Europe since he took office in 1997.
Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini on Wednesday called on the west to end their isolation on Iran and show clear support for Khatami. "We must make Khatami himself and members of his government welcome in the west," he said.
Khatami initiated a foreign policy of detente and tension-easing after he was sworn in to office and opened a new chapter in Iran's relations with other countries, particularly the Gulf states and the European countries.
Echoing Khatami's policy, senior Italian and French government officials visited Iran last year.
Britain also reached an agreement with Iran to promote their diplomatic relations to ambassadorial level by putting aside the issue of Salmon Rushdie, who was sentenced to death for his novel "the Satanic Verses" by the late Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Musavi Khomeini.
Political observers hold that Khatami's visits to regional and European countries will help him break the isolation on Iran imposed by the west led by the U.S. since the Islamic revolution in 1979.