21 January 2004
Iran's President Mohammad Khatami says his country has never sought to acquire nuclear weapons but reserves the right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful uses. Mr. Khatami spoke with reporters after addressing the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos.
It was a wide-ranging question and answer period, and Iran's embattled reformist president looked and sounded very much at ease as he fielded questions on several issues.
But two topics dominated the news conference: is Iran seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capability? And, what chances do Mr. Khatami and his allies have to reform Iran's political system, now dominated by hard-line clerics?
Mr. Khatami said his country has never sought nuclear weapons. The Iranian leader says Iran has never been after weapons of mass destruction, vehemently opposes the production of such weapons, and is cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency. But he says Iran has a right, like every other country, to use nuclear energy peacefully.
Mr. Khatami also categorically denied a South Korean reporter's suggestion that North Korea may have shipped nuclear material to Iran.
The embattled Iranian president is facing a showdown with his country's conservative religious establishment over who can run in Iran's parliamentary elections next month. But he says the matter will be settled and that his country's democracy is in a state of evolution.
Asked if he were planning to meet U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, who will also attend the five-day Davos conference, Mr. Khatami indicated that he would only do so if the United States shows Iran respect. Although he says there has been no sign of that from the United States, he acknowledges that there has been a change of tone in Washington toward Iran, and he says he hopes that it is not just a ploy but a real change in attitude.
Mr. Khatami says the world was deceived by President Bush's claim that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. He says Iran is vehemently opposed to the break-up of Iraq along ethnic or confessional lines, and he says he strongly supports Grand Ayatollah Ali Hussein al-Sistani, the leader of Iraq's majority Shiites who has demanded that full-fledged elections be held on a one-man, one-vote basis before the U.S.-led occupation authorities hand power over to an Iraqi government by July. U.S. officials have said there is not enough time to organize a general election before the handover.