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Iranian Ex-President Cautions West on Nuclear Pressure


Iran's former president has warned the world against pressuring Tehran about its nuclear program. Mohammad Khatami comments come just days before a United Nations Security Council deadline for Iran to halt its uranium enrichment activities.

Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami on Friday accused the West of starting a crisis over his country's nuclear programs.

Speaking at the United Nations University in Tokyo, Mr. Khatami said Iran's uranium enrichment is for completely peaceful purposes. The Islamic scholar said world powers have a double standard of supporting a country in the Middle East with "hundreds of nuclear warheads" - a reference to Israel - while trying to prevent Iran from using nuclear technology to generate electricity.

Mr. Khatami says the West is "pouring gasoline over a fire," creating a crisis in a region ready to explode.

The United States, Germany and other countries say they are not satisfied with Iran's response to a package of incentives to halt its nuclear activities. Tehran faces an August 31 deadline to stop enriching uranium, or face possible sanctions by the United Nations.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso on Friday said Tokyo will refrain from commenting on Iran's response. Japan is Iran's largest export market for oil.

Japanese Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki recently indicated his government would be reluctant to include oil in any economic sanctions that might be imposed on Iran. Tanigaki, noting what he calls Japan's extremely large dependence on Iranian oil, says halting the flow of such imports would cause great difficulty for the country, and would not be in Japan's interest.

Japan has maintained good relations with Iran, even though Tokyo's main ally, the United States, does not. Two years ago, Iran agreed to let Japanese companies develop its Azadegan oil field, which is believed to have the largest untapped reserves in the world. But negotiations on how to carry out the $2 billion project have stalled.

Mr. Khatami, president of Iran from 1997 until last year, met with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Thursday.

Mr. Khatami - regarded as a moderate compared with the more conservative leadership now in Tehran - reportedly asked Mr. Koizumi to have Japan play a role in resolving the nuclear standoff through dialogue, not pressure. The Japanese Foreign Ministry says the prime minister told Mr. Khatami that Japan hopes Iran will cooperate with and respect the will of the international community.

Earlier in the week, Iran formally responded to an incentive package offered by the United States, France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany. Iran called for a new round of negotiations, but gave no indication of complying with next Thursday's deadline.

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