Khatami visiting Austria, Greece

TEHERAN (Combined reports) – President Mohammad Khatami started a four-day visit to Austria and Greece yesterday aimed at boosting relations between his country and the European Union (EU) and also to urge its 13 other member states to do more for Middle East peace. Khatami, who is being accompanied by his Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi and several other ministers, was to meet yesterday in Vienna with President Thomas Klestil, whose visit to Teheran in September 1999 was the first by an EU president since Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979. This visit, Khatami’s fourth European jaunt in three years, is «of major political importance for dialogue and peace in the world, as well as for economic and cultural projects,» a source close to Khatami said. The talks with Klestil and Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel will cover bilateral ties as well as international issues, notably the 17-month Arab-Israeli conflict which seems to be spiraling out of control, the official said. Teheran does not recognize Israel and backs the Palestinian uprising, as well as the right of return for millions of Palestinians who became refugees when the Jewish state was created in 1948. It also refuses to accept the United States, with which it does not have any diplomatic relations, as a sponsor of Middle East peace negotiations and has called on the EU to play a more active role independent of US policy. Tensions between Teheran and Washington were badly strained in late January when US President George W. Bush denounced Iran, along with Iraq and North Korea, as part of an «axis of evil» and charged it was seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction. During telephone talks on Sunday with Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, Kharazi repeated calls for European countries to «put Israel under pressure.» «Now is the time for the European Union to take effective measures such as imposing sanctions against Israel,» he said, calling on EU countries to take «a stronger position (over the Palestinian issue) and real measures so that the United States is also obliged to put Israel under pressure.» Khatami was expected to discuss the Middle East crisis later today or early tomorrow with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. He also has lined up talks with Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) chief Ali Rodriguez and Mohammad el-Baradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In Athens, Khatami will hold talks with President Costis Stephanopoulos (who visited Iran in October 1999), Prime Minister Costas Simitis, Parliament Speaker Apostolos Kaklamanis as well as with leading economic, religious and cultural figures. Khatami is also expected to give a lecture to Greek intellectuals and scholars. The Iranian president will later attend ceremonies to pay homage to the memory of the Unknown Soldier and receive the Key to the City of Athens from Mayor Dimitris Avramopoulos. Foreign Minister Kharazi and Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh will accompany the Iranian president on his visit to Greece.(AFP, IRNA)

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