Khatami says Iran's policy has never been to eliminate Israel

Ex-president visits US on religious understanding program

Former Iranian president Muhammad Khatami says his country does not seek the destruction of Israel and that he supports a two-state solution for the Middle East. Khatami is on a two-week tour of the US, the first such visit of a senior Iranian figure since the Islamic revolution. In an interview in The Washington Post before arriving in Washington to speak at the National Cathedral, Khatami seemed to contradict the threats of his successor to "wipe Israel off the map." "The practical policy of the Islamic republic has never been to eliminate or wipe Israel off the map. And I don't believe that this policy has changed with the change of president," Khatami said in the interview, adding, "You've never heard me reject the right of anyone to exist." Yet while in office Khatami was a harsh critic of Israel, stating that "historically, as well as morally, Israel is not a legitimate state" and calling Israel an "undesirable entity in the Middle East." He is also a strong supporter of Hizbullah and embraced its leader Hassan Nasrallah when he was president. On the issue of Iran's nuclear program, the former president said he believes there is still room for negotiations and stressed that Teheran did not reject the incentive package presented by Europe and the US. At the same time, Khatami warned against taking military action against his country, telling the American audience that "Iran is not Iraq." "So far, whenever the United States has tried to solve its disputes through military means, it has not achieved its objectives - and also not solved the problem it was meant to solve," Khatami said in the interview. Khatami was president of Iran from 1997 to 2005. During his term he tried to push for reforms in the Iranian government and for greater political freedom, though most of his initiatives never materialized. At the same time, Khatami was a strong supporter of Iran's nuclear program and during his term the program advanced closer to achieving a nuclear bomb. Khatami is touring five cities in the US as part of a religious understanding program. He is also speaking at universities and talking to the American press. Khatami's visit to the US has raised anger in the American Jewish community, who tried to get the State Department to deny him a visa to the US. The administration allowed Khatami in, arguing that he will hold no meetings with American officials and that it is a private visit. The State Department announced that its Diplomatic Security Service is providing security for the visit. In Boston, local Jewish leaders protested the invitation issued by Harvard University's Kennedy School to Khatami to speak to students and faculty members. Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney joined the critics and said the former Iranian president was not a welcome guest in his state.