Distances himself from comments by Ahmadinejad that Israel should not exist.
By NATHAN GUTTMAN
Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami criticized President George W. Bush in interviews published Tuesday, as he joined Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other leaders at the United Nations for a meeting of a group that promotes understanding between Western and Islamic states.
Khatami, in the middle of a two-week tour of the United States, refused to speak with the media as he went in and out of the room where the meeting of the Alliance of Civilizations took place at UN headquarters. The event was closed to the media.
Yet in interviews with CNN and USA Today, Khatami faulted Bush on several counts: He refused, for example, to back off a previous comparison between the American leader and Osama bin Laden. He also said the US was partly to blame for the turmoil in the Middle East.
"As a result of such wrong policies, such unilateral, violent policies, that is - the voice of logic has decreased and voice of terror and attractiveness of terror unfortunately among youth has increased," CNN quoted him as saying in an interview.
Khatami will spend a second day at the UN for the event. He spoke in the Chicago area over the weekend, and will attend two Islamic conferences as well as deliver a speech at the National Cathedral in Washington.
Khatami is the most senior Iranian to travel outside New York in the United States since Islamic fundamentalists seized the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held Americans hostage for 444 days. He and his successor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have both addressed the UN General Assembly.
Khatami reiterated the government's claim that it is not seeking nuclear weapons. The United States insists that it is.
"Why should they not trust Iran?" CNN quoted him as saying. "See, at this moment, Iran is a signatory to the treaty, has declared many times it has no interest in building the nuclear bomb."
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan created the Alliance of Civilizations - headed by Spain and Turkey - last year as a vehicle to overcome the mutual suspicion, fear and misunderstanding between Islamic and Western societies that have been exploited by extremists throughout the world, according to its terms of reference. Khatami is a founding member.
The group is expected to report to Annan in the second half of 2006 on actions to counter extremism and promote mutual respect between civilizations and cultures.
Other members include the wife of the emir of Qatar, Sheika Mozza bint Nasser al-Misnid; former prime minister of Senegal Moustapha Niasse; and Rabbi Arthur Schneir, president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation in New York.
Khatami distanced himself from comments by Ahmadinejad that Israel should not exist.
"I personally never said that Israel should be wiped off the map," he told CNN. "I always said and backed fair and equal peace in the region."
In a separate interview with USA Today, Khatami said US forces should remain in Iraq for the time being.
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