Press Conference with President Mohammad Khatami at the World Economic Forum

January 22, 2004

DAVOS, Jan 21, IRAN -- Iranian President Mohammad Khatami on Wednesday rejected comments by US President George W. Bush that its cooperation with the IAEA was a sign of giving in to US pressure. "I do not accept that. Before all this fanfare, we were an official member of the NPT. We have signed the CTBT, and a convention on the prohibition of biological and chemical weapons and have consistently said that all our nuclear activities are within the rules," Khatami told reporters following his keynote speech at the Forum. Indicating that US foreign policy has not been successful, Khatami said: "America, with all its might, invaded Afghanistan in order to quash Bin Laden. Has the threat of Al-Qaeda disappeared? And Iraq was occupied under the pretext of WMD. Clearly the public opinion was deceived because there are no WMD."

Asked whether he would use the opportunity of the international Forum for a dialogue with coparticipant US Vice President Dick Cheney, Khatami reiterated that a prerequisite for holding a political dialogue is "mutual respect" on both sides, however adding that he "hoped" the "changes we have witnessed in the US tone are not tactical" ones.

Questioned by a journalist on whether Iran could ever recognise an Israeli state, the Iranian president responded by saying that Tehran has a "moral debate with Israel and the world which is that occupation does not bring legitimacy." "It is very dangerous to occupy a land and claim its ownership, but we do not intervene in the affairs of others and we respect the decisions of the Palestinian people, whatever their decisions (be)."

Turning to whether reforms were possible in Iran with its given constitition, Khatami reminded that through the course of its history, Iran has called for peace and democratic values, adding that the "Islam I want, is one that is compatible with freedom and progress, and I believe that these have been taken into account in the current constitution."

"No doubt our people need and desire democracy, one that is compatible with its religious and cultural values and the present constitution has the capacity to make such a democracy possible," Khatami stressed. "I and our nation will do our best to achieve this goal," he promised, adding that however "any constitution can be changed by a referendum of the people (...) if there is a need and the time is ripe."

Responding to reported allegations that Tehran was supporting Shiites in Iraq, the Iranian head of state said that ethnic rivalry is always a cause of concern but that there "has never been a conflict between Sunni and Shiites in Iraq." "We have always said: one man, one vote in Iraq," Khatami added saying that Tehran considers a "democratic government" compatible with its cultural and religious background as the "best" one for its neighbour.

In response to a final question on alleged shipments of nuclear material to Iran, Khatami said Tehran "vehemently denies" the transfer of such material to Iran by North Korea. "We have nothing to hide, and even before signing the additional protocol, we declared that we accept the terms" of the IAEA. The press conference with Khatami in Davos came on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) which opened earlier during the day in the presence of over 30 heads of state and government and some 2,200 participants, mostly political and economic personalities, from around the world for five days of talks themed "Partnering for Prosperity and Security."