01 September 2006

Concerns raised over US visa grant for Khatami

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The United States decision to grant a visa for former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami has drawn criticism from some politicians and a Jewish rights group, who say they consider Iran a threat to the country.

Mohammad Khatami, who served as president of Iran from 1997 until 2005, is due to speak at the University of Virginia at an invitation-only event next Thursday, followed by later talks at the Washington National Cathedral and a conference at the UN on promoting dialogue.

Khatami is a cleric whose promise of reform in Iran carried him to an overwhelming surprise election victory as president nine years ago.

The Government's decision to allow him to visit the country has prompted some senators to express their disapproval, including Senator George Allen (R-Fairfax County), who in a two-page letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cited the fact that Khatami presided over Iran’s secret development of a nuclear program, permitted human rights abuses and led a regime that has been labeled a sponsor of terrorism.

In the letter he added “there will be no restrictions on President Khatami’s travel and he will be permitted to give public speeches in Washington and Chicago and may include a speech at the University of Virginia and a visit to Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello.”

The Jewish rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Centre has also criticised the visa.

"Granting former President Khatami a visa... will be viewed by the mullahs as a reward for their policy of confrontation and hatred toward the United States and her allies," the centre said in a statement on its website.

The State Department has defended its decision to grant Khatami a visa, insisting he poses no threat to national security, and spokesman Tom Casey added:

"This is an opportunity in part for former President Khatami to hear the concerns of the American people... He's going to get some tough questions from the American people who he does meet with."

Former President Jimmy Carter is reported to be interested in meeting Mr Khatami for talks during his visit.

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