Former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami said on Sunday Hezbollah was a symbol of Arab resistance and that groups or nations fighting oppression could not be equated with terrorists.
Khatami said there was a difference between those who ”strive for the territorial integrity of a country and those who kill only to kill.”
His comments, through an interpreter, came in reply to a student question after he delivered a speech at Harvard University’s Kennedy school of government.
He called Hezbollah, which fought a 34-day war with Israel in Lebanon this summer and is classified as a terrorist organisation by the United States, ”a symbol of Arabic resistance”.
Washington has accused Iran of arming Hezbollah guerrillas. Hezbollah was founded in 1982 and waged a long guerrilla war to evict Israeli forces from Lebanon. Its recent fighting with Israel was sparked after the group kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12.
Khatami, a cleric who was Iran’s president from 1997 to 2005 and was considered a reformist, also denied Iran financed terrorist groups, contradicting assertions by the United States.
Replying to the same student, who repeated allegations that Khatami’s government had financed terrorists, Khatami replied: ”Are you sure I gave hundreds of millions in aid to terrorists? I assure you this has not happened and will not happen.”
It was not clear if Khatami was referring just to his own government. He did not mention what policies his hard-line successor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, might have toward Hezbollah.
The speech in Cambridge on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States, marked the end of a controversial five-city visit that included stops in Washington and New York.
Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney did not allow state police to escort Khatami as police would normally do, after calling his planned speech at Harvard ”propaganda”.
About 200 protesters crowded outside the Kennedy School and one child held a sign with a picture of New York’s World Trade Centre — destroyed in the September 11 attacks — and ”Remember This” written underneath.
President George Bush has called Iran part of an ”axis of evil” but said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal his administration issued Khatami a visa to travel in the United States because he wanted to hear his views.
Khatami is the highest-ranking Iranian to visit Washington since the United States cut diplomatic ties after student radicals held 52 Americans hostage during the 1979 revolution. – Reuters