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Middle East: Clinton Strongly Opposes Terrorism

New York, 22 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton is signaling Iran that Washington seeks closer cooperation with his country. He says Americans respect and honor Islam.

Clinton told the United Nations General Assembly yesterday that the Muslim world and the United States share the same hopes and aspirations to live in peace and security and to build a better life.

The American president singled out the issue of terrorism as a key area of concern. He said the international community should put the problem of terrorism on the top of its agenda.

Clinton said the U.S. is a wealthy and powerful nation and therefore is often a target of terrorists.

The American president said terrorism has a new face in the 1990s. He said terrorists take advantage of greater openness and the new technologies which are more readily available. He said there is no justification for killing innocent people.

The U.N. General Assembly began its 53rd annual debate with a number of speakers, including Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.

It was the first time in 12 years that Iran has sent its head of state to address the U.N. General Assembly, and the speech was closely watched by diplomats.

Khatami told the international community that his country wants to have relations with other countries based on mutual respect.

He said Iran is determined to expand relations with its neighbors and other countries on the basis of respect for independence and equality of rights.

The Iranian leader did not single out by name the United States. Washington broke off ties with Tehran in 1980 after the overthrow of the Shah and the Iranian revolution.

Khatami, considered a political moderate, was elected in August 1997. Since his election, both countries have signaled that they want to improve relations.

In his 45-minute speech, Khatami spoke about a "dialogue between civilizations." He also urged people around the world to replace hostility and confrontation with discourse and understanding.

Khatami called on all its neighbors in the Persian Gulf region to establish a security and cooperation system in the area.

On Afghanistan, Khatami said there is no military solution to the ongoing conflict that pits the Taliban military against opposition forces. The Iranian leader said the United Nations should bring all parties in the conflict to the negotiating table.

A settlement in Afghanistan, which is 90 percent controlled by the Taliban, should pave the way for restoring tranquillity in the war-torn country, he said. Khatami said the Afghan people should have the right to determine their destiny and the right to enjoy a broad-based government.