- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, the highest-ranking Iranian official to visit the United States since the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, arrives in Washington tomorrow to deliver an address at the National Cathedral, a high point of his closely watched two-week U.S. tour.

Bush administration officials insist Mr. Khatami’s trip is a private visit and that he will not meet with any U.S. government officials while here.

But the former president, a moderate who was succeeded last year by hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has already made news since his Aug. 30 arrival, attacking the Bush administration’s handling of the war on terrorism while hinting there was room for agreement with Tehran on recognizing Israel and stabilizing Iraq.

“As America claims to be fighting terrorism, it implements policies that cause the intensification of terrorism and institutionalized violence,” Mr. Khatami, an Islamic cleric, said in a speech to a North American Muslim convention in Chicago over the weekend.

Mr. Khatami today is concluding a two-day conference in New York of the U.N.-sponsored Alliance of Civilizations, of which he was a founding member.

The group’s mandate is to bridge differences between the West and the Islamic world.

The former Iranian leader, whose eight-year term was marked by a string of losing policy battles with religious hard-liners, will speak tomorrow at the Thomas Jefferson-designed Rotunda on the grounds of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and then talk at the National Cathedral.

His cathedral address is billed as a speech on how the three “Abrahamaic faiths” — Christianity, Judaism and Islam — can work together for a Middle East peace.

On Friday, Mr. Khatami is the featured speaker at a dinner being given by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and he will travel to Boston over the weekend to give another address at Harvard.

The Khatami visit comes amid an escalating war of wills between Mr. Ahmadinejad’s government and the United States over Iran’s nuclear programs.

Some Jewish-American groups and U.S. conservatives have criticized the Khatami visit, saying political repression and Iranian support for anti-Israel terrorist groups flourished under the ex-president’s purportedly moderate administration.

A group of Iranian dissidents, ex-political prisoners and torture victims plan a National Press Club press conference tomorrow to protest the Khatami visit.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack stressed yesterday Mr. Khatami’s visit was a private one and approving his visa did not signal any change in U.S. government policy shunning the Iranian regime.

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