Agence France-Presse - 13 March, 2007
Iran's former president Mohammad Khatami made a rare intervention to urge his hardline successor to compromise and prevent a crisis with world powers over its nuclear programme, media reported Monday.
Khatami, reformist president from 1997 to 2005, told President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to make concessions over Iran's controversial atomic drive and avoid a second UN Security Council sanctions resolution.
"I believe we should pay a certain price, and pay it bravely, for talks and not head towards crisis as well as guaranteeing our rights in future," Khatami told the economic daily Sanaat va Tose'e (Industry and Development) in an interview.
"We must try to prevent the adoption of another resolution."
Khatami gave no indication of what the "price" might involve. The United States has repeatedly said negotiations with Iran are only possible if it first suspends sensitive nuclear work, which it has so far steadfastly refused to do.
Although Khatami did not mention the president or the government by name, his comments will be seen as a clear warning to Ahmadinejad, who has already been criticised in parliament and the press for his confrontational policies.
The government has repeatedly refused to give into the key demand that it suspend uranium enrichment, a process that the West fears could be diverted to make nuclear weapons.
The UN Security Council in December punished Iran's defiance by imposing its first ever sanctions against Tehran and is currently discussing a draft resolution that would step up the measures.
Khatami urged Iran to avoid provocations and act with prudence, in marked contrast to Ahmadinejad who has repeatedly vowed in the most graphic language that the nuclear programme will go on.
"We can prevent a crisis with discretion and courage. In nuclear and regional issues, especially Iraq, we should act with prudence and not provoke," said Khatami.
Ahmadinejad has already stood accused in the press of using overly provocative language, especially when he compared Iran's nuclear programme to a train without either "reverse gear or brakes".
"We have to be alert and apprehensive ... the crisis is very damaging to Iran and it hurts the United States and the region too," said Khatami in the interview, which was picked up on the front page of the reformist Ayandeh-No (New Future).
Since handing over the presidency to Ahmadinejad, Khatami has until now generally stayed out of day-to-day politics, devoting his time to working as head of a centre for dialogue between civilisations, one of the central planks of his own term of office.
He has rarely made remarks that could be interpreted as critical of the government although he raised eyebrows at home and abroad by staging high-profile visits to Britain and even Iran's arch enemy the United States.
The former president vehemently denied that Iran was seeking nuclear weapons but -- in contrast to the government -- appeared to express understanding for the West's concerns over its nuclear programme.
"Of course we don't want to make nuclear weapons but some people are concerned about proliferation of nuclear weapons. This is an important concern and we agreed to alleviate these concerns."
Khatami's intervention came amid renewed criticism in the press of Ahmadinejad, this time over his plan to attend the UN Security Council's deliberations over Iran's nuclear programme in person.
"When the president has said hundreds of Security Council resolutions are worthless to us, why are we breaking this stance?" asked the conservative daily Tehran Emrouz (Tehran Today).
"The government's behaviour in diplomacy needs a serious revision," it added.
The pro-Khatami daily Aftab-e Yazd (Sun of Yazd, the former president's hometown) said its only advice for Ahmadinejad, should he go, was that the text of his speech be prepared by experts and that "he refrain from making any comments outside the points approved by the experts".
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