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Khatami: Islamic World ready for change


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) -- The Islamic world is fed up with violence and extremism in the name of religion and is ready for an era of progressive, democratic Muslim governments, former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said Friday.

Khatami said current conflicts between the West and Islam have created a situation that ''can only see ever-escalating violence, whether in the form of war and occupation and repression, or in the form of terror and destruction.''

''After about two centuries of dispute between tradition and modernity in the world of Islam (there is) a high level of mental preparation for the acceptance of a major transformation in the mind and lives of Muslims,'' Khatami said in a speech at an international conference on Islam and the West.

Khatami is a noted Islamic scholar whose moderate policies in religion and politics, especially his view of the U.S., were opposed by hard-liners in Iran. He was Iran's leader from 1997 until June, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an ultraconservative, became president.

Khatami also cautioned that imposing sanctions on his country because of its nuclear program would also hit the West hard by pushing oil prices higher.

''The first effect on sanctions against Iran is that this high price will go even higher ... and the impact on the industrialized world will be very serious. I hope all sides of the issue will act prudently,'' he said.

There is widespread concern in the West that Iran's civilian nuclear program is aimed at producing nuclear weapons. Last Saturday, the International Atomic Energy Agency decided to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council, saying it lacked confidence in Tehran's nuclear intentions and accusing Iran of violating the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Khatami said ''Iran neither has nuclear weapons nor is developing weapons. Thus the pressure on Iran to relinquish its nuclear technology is unfair and unjust.''

He noted that a number of countries in Middle East and Asia have nuclear weapons.

''Israel has at least 200 nuclear war heads. It would have been very good if the international community especially Europe and the IAEA focused on creating a nuclear free region in the Middle East instead of focusing on their efforts on Iran.''

The conference in Kuala Lumpur comes at a time when the Muslim world and the West are polarized following the publication of caricatures of Islam's Prophet Muhammad by mostly European newspapers.

Khatami did not refer to the controversy in his speech, focusing instead on reforms in Islam and conflicts with the West.

He said a transformation in the Muslim world could pave the way for setting up ''democratic governments that pursue national interests and create the grounds for achieving greater science and technology.''

He said he envisioned ''a new world that wants to understand and utilize religion in a way that it is not incompatible with freedom and progress.''

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