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Iran has Iraq’s interests at heart: Khatami | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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MANAMA (AFP) -Iran’s former reformist president Mohammad Khatami said Tehran hoped talks with the United States would help stabilise Iraq and rejected charges the Islamic republic was trying to stir trouble.

“Iran supports (Iraq’s) stability and a democratic government,” Khatami told AFP on Monday a visit to Manama for a conference sponsored by a cultural centre.

“Those backstage at the Arab summit who speak of Iran’s interference in Iraqi affairs, this is false.”

The Arab League was holding its annual summit in Khartoum Tuesday. The 22-member pan-Arab organisation was set to call for a greater Arab role in Baghdad amid fears of Shiite Iran’s influence in its western neighbour.

The ex-president also endorsed efforts to form an Iraqi national unity government, which have deadlocked more than three months after a landark election amid political squabbling and a surge in sectarian violence.

“Following the example of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani (Iraq’s senior Shiite cleric), we believe that Iraq has no choice but to from a democratic government representative of all the factions,” he said.

“A Sunni, Shiite or Kurdish government would not have an measure of success in ruling Iraq,” said Khatami, who was succeeded by hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in August after serving the maximum two terms in office.

Khatami defended Tehran’s much anticipated talks with the United States concerning Baghdad, which has raised alarm among Iraq’s own Sunni Arab population and the Arab League.

“It does not mean that Iran meddles in Iraqi affairs because Iraqi officials asked us to do this.”

Iraqi Shiite leader Abdel Aziz Hakim, an ally of Tehran’s, called for talks between Washington and Tehran on March 16. His request was quickly accepted by Iran’s upper echelon of leadership.

High-level direct talks between Iran and Washington would be the first since the sides broke diplomatic relations in 1980 after the ouster of the US-backed shah.

Khatami took Washington for task for Iraq’s downward spiral since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in April 2003 amid US allegations that Tehran has funded and supplied arms to the Iraqi insurgency.

“We believe the occupation is responsible for these events,” he said.

“The American objective in its struggle against terrorism and had the contrary effect, with the occupation attracting extremists.”

Khatami also defended Iran’s controversial nuclear programme, which Tehran claims is for peaceful energy purposes while the West charges the Islamic republic’s aim is to obtain an atomic bomb.

He said dialogue was the only way to resolve the tense standoff that could see the UN Security Council slap sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme.