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Former Iran President Calls for Troop Withdrawals from Iraq, Afghanistan


Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami says American policies in Iraq and Afghanistan have led to an upsurge in terrorism and he called for a quick withdrawal of foreign forces from those countries. Mr. Khatami made the comments during a speech in London.

It was billed as a keynote speech on the importance of tolerance, dialogue and moderation. But, during his address at London's Chatham House research center, Mr. Khatami was soon asked about other issues, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

He said Iran was delighted to see Saddam Hussein toppled in Baghdad and the Taleban removed from power in Afghanistan.

But, Mr. Khatami said American actions in both those countries have been major mistakes. Instead of stopping terrorism, he said, they created more terrorism and extremism throughout the region.

Mr. Khatami said foreign forces should withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan as soon as possible and allow neighboring countries to help find a solution.

He also said that the security of both Iraq and Afghanistan is vital to the security of Iran, and he said Tehran supports the newly elected governments in Kabul and Baghdad and is doing its part in reconstruction efforts.

That comment contradicts American accusations that Iran is playing a destabilizing role and meddling in its neighbors' affairs.

The former Iranian president said he hoped U.S. policies would improve, after, as he put it, the Americans see the results of their mistakes in the upcoming polls.

Americans vote next Tuesday in elections for the House of Representatives and a portion of the Senate, and opinion polls indicate Iraq will be a major issue, with a majority of Americans shown to oppose the war.

Relations between Tehran and Washington were a central theme in Mr. Khatami's comments.

He rebuked the Bush administration's efforts to bring democracy to the Middle East, saying the countries there want and deserve democracy, but not by foreign imposition.

He at one point referred to democracy as "a flower, a seed" that was cultivated in the West long ago and that shall be cultivated in the land of Islam in a different way, because conditions are different.

Asked specifically about human rights abuses in Iran, Mr. Khatami said that torture and wrongdoings have been committed and may still take place. But, he quickly pointed to similar abuses elsewhere.

"Torture is wrong," he said, "whether in Guantanamo Bay [in Cuba], in Abu Ghraib prison [outside Baghdad], in Israeli prisons, the prisons of U.S. allies or in Iranian prisons."

Mr. Khatami never specifically referred to Iran's dispute with the United States and the United Nations over Tehran's development of nuclear technology. Iran says the program is for peaceful purposes only, but the United States and other nations fear it will lead to the development of a nuclear bomb and the U.N. Security Council is considering sanctions against Iran over the issue.

The only veiled reference came when Mr. Khatami spoke of the need for eastern or Muslim nations to embrace technology and development. That, said the former Iranian leader, is something the East should learn from the West.

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