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Iranian president condemns September 11 attacks

Khatami: "We have to address the root causes of terrorism."  

(CNN) - The U.S.-led war against terrorism is being carried out across the border from Iran, in Afghanistan.

Iranian President Mohammed Khatami discussed the military campaign, the September 11 attacks and the political future of its war-torn neighbor in a rare interview Sunday with CNN Senior International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour.

AMANPOUR: With every statement, every new videotape, Osama bin Laden comes closer to admitting responsibility for September 11. Are you are comfortable that, with the evidence so far, the United States, under international law, has the right to defend itself against al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden?

Iranian president: 'Root of terrorism' must be addressed 

KHATAMI (through translator): In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful, first of all, I would like to again express my deepest condolences to the nation of America, and express my sorrow for the tragic event of September 11. What occurred was a disaster.

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Terror and terrorization is not a new phenomenon. But regretfully, what has saddened us more is that the machine of war and terror did not stop in the year 2001, which was designated as the year for the dialogue among civilizations. The September 11 attack was the ugliest form of terrorism ever seen.

I expressed my deepest sorrow to the people of America right after the tragedy, and I'd like to say how sorry I am, and express my sorrow. I would also like to say that the Americans were not only ones who suffered. Just today we had a ceremony where the flags of all nationalities present in that -- who were victims of the terrorist attack -- were raised. As you know, there were Iranians among them as well. Therefore, that was a tragedy, and a terrible one. And terrorism in general is.

What matters is that we must confront this phenomenon. We have to do it in a determined manner. We have to address the root causes of terrorism. We have to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice. And we must fight terrorist bases wherever they are. But again, we have to address the roots as well.

We have expressed that we are unhappy with what has happened in Afghanistan, both in the past and present. We have condemned extremism in any form, and we believe that terrorism in any form is also unacceptable. The question of who was behind the attack, I'm sure must be supported by evidence; and there probably is some evidence out there, although we haven't received it ourselves, or seen it ourselves. But it seems, from various developments, that the groups and individuals named may have perhaps been involved in it.

What matters is that we must identify matters very clearly. We must not act too quickly. And we must also fight terrorist bases and hopefully we must move in a direction so that in the future no nationality, no country will face such tragic events again.

AMANPOUR: International officials, U.S. officials, have said that the Iranian delegation is being very constructive in the current Six-Plus-Two talks on the future of Afghanistan. What do you see for the future of Afghanistan? Would Zahir Shah have any interim role? Would any Taliban defectors have any role in a future government of Afghanistan?

KHATAMI: As has been indicated, we are very active in this area, because we cannot sit silent when there is a country that is unstable in our neighborhood.

Rather than talking about groups and people, I prefer that we talk about mechanisms that are available to us that can lead to peace and stability and a moderate government in Afghanistan. What we have in mind is that we must consider two processes for Afghanistan. One is a final one, in which all the people of Afghanistan, Afghan men and women, regardless of their religious or ethnic background, may be able to go to the polls and determine what the future of their country should be.

However, it is clear that under the present crisis, this is not possible to attain at this very moment, and therefore we need a transitional period. In a transitional period, naturally, we need an interim government comprising all Afghan groups -- Afghan groups that are acceptable to the international community, and the people of Afghanistan as well. And it must be supervised by the United Nations, this transitional period, so that Afghanistan can reach a normal stage where people can determine their own fate.

Clearly, the Pashtun are a large number in Afghanistan, although one must not say that Pashtun are equal to Taliban or equal to the processes in Rome. We know that Mohammad Zahir is the one representing the Rome process. What matters to us is that the Pashtun, too, must be there, must be present, as well as Tajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks, and other ethnic groups.

AMANPOUR: Mr. President, Iran was one of the first countries to send condolences to the United States after September 11. You, yourself, and other members of the ruling establishment; the people expressed their sympathy. There is food distribution going to Afghanistan that will come through Iran's port on the Persian Gulf. Iran has said that it will meet its international obligations to assist U.S. pilots, should they find themselves in trouble during this situation.

This is quite incredible for so-called sworn enemies. In previously interviews this week you have spoken of what you called some positive steps that were taken by the Clinton administration in talking about its past policy toward Iran. U.S. officials are still not able to understand why Iran won't accept unconditional dialogue. I don't mean relations, I don't mean negotiations, I mean dialogue. What is wrong with unconditional dialogue, where you all put your issues on the table?

KHATAMI: We do understand the feeling of the people of America and the government of America in responding to the tragic attack that occurred on September 11. And it is their right to want to bring the perpetrators to justice, and to confront them. And the world also endorses that.

But the question is: How do you confront terror and terrorism? Terror and terrorism is a process. When we talk about al Qaeda, for example, this is a group that is not just based in Afghanistan. It exists in other places, as well as do our terrorist groups. If we act quickly, or in a one-sided manner, we might be able to the fight terrorism in one case or two, but we might end up activating other terrorist processes.

As far as relations are concerned, I have said that there is a great deal of mistrust. In practice, regretfully, we haven't seen any serious steps taken to improve the situation, although in the last administration some positive things were done. Officially, the U.S. administration said that it had made some mistakes towards Iran. It did not apologize officially, but it did at least clearly state that it had made mistakes.

And if that had been followed by some practical steps, it would have had some positive results. But unfortunately, accusations still continue, threats still continue, un-based allegations are -- continue. And I want to say that we are -- although we are victims of terrorism ourselves, we are said -- allegedly said -- we're said to be alleged terrorists, or at least we're on the list of terrorist groups. And I want to say that there are many terrorist groups present in the West and other countries that are actually being supported. So there is a double standard.

We have, as you know, a history of pessimism when it comes to our relations with the United Nations -- with the United States. So although there have been some positive developments, we need practical steps. So in addition to rhetoric, we need to get rid of the unacceptable behavior that still continues, in my opinion, towards Iran.

AMANPOUR: You are the proponent of the dialogue of civilizations. You always talk about an Islam of peace and tolerance. But the hateful message, the violent message of Islam is being heard very loudly around the world. The message of Osama bin Laden does resonate with many Muslims.

What kind of a responsibly do you believe that you have -- people such as yourself, moderates who talk about a peaceful Islam -- to stand up and over and over again tell the Islamic people that suicide is not allowed in the Koran ... that jihad is very carefully prescribed, only in self-defense, not against innocent civilians?

What sort of responsibility do you believe you have to convince Muslims of that?

KHATAMI: When the dialogue among civilizations was raised, the idea was to change the paradigm in world affairs and human relations. The paradigm in international affairs in the past century, as well as the first part of the current century, led to mass killings, war, oppression and discrimination.

That paradigm has its own political, cultural, social and economic factors -- and it's not easy to change all that. Changing a paradigm that has been in place for centuries requires time. In order to change this paradigm so that dialogue can replace violence and clashes, we have to set ourselves free from our historical differences. Regretfully, the differences we've had between the East and West and between Islam and Christianity -- it goes back to the Crusade wars.

The fact remains that in the political realm we haven't been able to set ourselves free from the same historical mentality that I mentioned. Therefore, in my very speeches I have said that we need to embark on educational and cultural efforts to educate in order to listen and have dialogue in order to educate and learn.

AMANPOUR: You have spoken, in your condolences and sympathies after September 11, of the great nation of America. Again, you speak about Islam being a religion of logic and tolerance. And yet every Friday in Iran, at Friday prayers, we still hear "death to America, death to America." How can you justify that, every Friday coming from Iran; particularly in this climate, where it could only be interpreted as an incitement to hatred, if not killing?

KHATAMI: Every day we hear a lot of politicians say that Iran is a base for terrorists, that Iran lacks democracy and freedom. And that we -- it is necessary to confront that. Well, these opinions do exist, and the reactions made here in Iran are somewhat similar, therefore. What people say in Iran, those slogans that are chanted, are not aimed at the people of America, not the nation of America, it is aimed at the wrong policies that we feel exist against our people, our nation.

AMANPOUR: But Mr. President, don't you think that although you say that it is not aimed against the people of America, in this climate, we've seen what hate can do; it can kill civilians. Do you think that it's still justifiable to have "death to America" as a matter of religious policy being chanted in Iran?

KHATAMI: Wherever we create hatred, we are creating problems for all humanity. So rest assured that this kind of hatred expressed is not toward the people of America. I also sympathize with the people and nation of America and elsewhere, in other situations. You've seen that in our country people have expressed similar sympathies with the people of America.

Again, it's a feeling that there are negative and wrong policies towards our country. And the way that is expressed does not mean that it expressed in a way that would want to confront a nation and a people. The people and nation of America are a great one, and no one can deny that; science, technology, industry, progress and development come from the United States, to a large extent.

So I think it's necessary for the people of America to ask a more serious question. ... What was the price that they paid when the September 11 attack happened? What is the price, and why was this such a high price to pay? What kind of anger was created that must have been expressed in that way? So no doubt there must have been some wrong policies that created a kind of hatred that became extreme.

So the people of America should demand, seriously, from their government, to moderate its policies, to improve and change some of it. And if that happened, the situation in the world will also improve.

So I'm against the expression of any form of hatred against any nation. And I want to say that the nation of Iran has no problem with the people and nation of America. There have been policies in the last couple of years against Iran that people of Iran have suffered from.

AMANPOUR: There have been thousands of people in the streets of Iran recently, during what was called the soccer demonstrations. They were also expressing political frustration. After gambling everything and voting for you in two landslide elections, do you think the people of Iran have a reason, do you think they're justified to feel disappointed at the slow pace of reform, the slow pace of democracy coming to Iran?

KHATAMI: I'm not sure that where you bring this judgment from, based on the demonstrations that happened in Iran. Why don't you look at demonstrations in France, in England, in Europe, elsewhere -- the kind of demonstrations that happen as a result of soccer games? How come you don't interpret that kind of demonstration as an expression of being hopeless, but you interpret -- hope that in Iran is being the hopeless thing, that people feel hopeless and pour into the streets.

What happened in Iran was a natural event. It had a history. We have a young population. They are getting excited. They want to express it. Among them, there might be people that have certain issues that might resort to some acts that create some problems. And if there an offense occurs, no doubt the law will deal with that.

But in various public opinions taken from young people in -- public opinion polls taken from young people in Iran, where it appeared in my last tenure and this one, the vast majority want the changes that are happening, want reform. And this -- these young people say they want these changes to happen within the framework of the revolution, so we need to bring about the kind of change that is in conformity with our society. We must improve ourselves continuously, we must have this kind of exchange.

It is not suitable to forget what the young people in your country want and demand, because that would create problems for the government itself. What is happening in Iran is a natural process, although it may have some problems and lead to some problems, there may be some shortcomings, but no doubt we are trying to improve the situation.


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