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Jewish groups in the US and American lawmakers are protesting the administration's decision to grant a visa to former Iranian president Muhammad Khatami, who was invited to give a series of speeches in the US.
The State Department issued Khatami a visitor's visa with no restrictions, though an official spokesman stressed that he will have no meetings with official US representatives during his visit.
Khatami is expected to give a speech next week at the National Cathedral in Washington, to meet with former president Jimmy Carter and to speak at events at the UN and Harvard University.
The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, an umbrella group representing 51 Jewish organizations, issued a statement expressing disappointment over the decision to allow Khatami into the US.
"He presented himself as a moderate leader, but proved to be no different than the hardliners and ultimately worked in concert with them," it said of Khatami, citing the facts that during his term as president, Iran built up its nuclear program, provided Hizbullah with rockets and supported terror groups.
Jewish activists and Israeli diplomats have expressed their opposition to the Khatami visit in conversations with administration officials, but the US maintained that since there is no political substance to the visit, he would be allowed to come to the US and attend events focusing on the role of religions in promoting peace.
A White House official said Wednesday that the administration expects that Khatami will "face tough questions" from his audiences regarding the behavior of Iran in the past and the present and that he will be asked about human rights abuses that occurred during his presidency.
Khatami will be the most senior Iranian official to visit the US since the Islamic revolution in 1979. The most significant event in his US schedule is his meeting with Carter, whose term was marked by the takeover of the US Embassy in Teheran. The 52 Americans held hostage were only released after Carter lost the 1980 election, a lose that was largely due to his inability to end the crisis.
Several US lawmakers have also protested the decision to allow Khatami enter the country. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehitnen (R-FL), who chairs the House subcommittee on the Middle East, said that "it is mystifying that we would roll out the red carpet for a person who has incited violence against civilians and who has expressed incendiary rhetoric against the United States and our allies."