Obama, Former Iranian President Both in Istanbul, No Meeting Planned

By Patrick Goodenough | April 7, 2009 | 4:36 AM EDT

President Obama arrives in rainy Istanbul late on Monday, April 6, 2009. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – As President Obama wrapped up his first European tour on Tuesday, Iranian and Turkish media were speculating on the likelihood of a meeting between the American and former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami.
Both men were in Istanbul, the historic city on the Bosphorus where Khatami was participating in a U.N. Alliance of Civilizations (AoC) gathering while Obama’s program on the second and final day of a visit to Turkey included a roundtable with students and a visit to a prominent mosque.
Iran’s Mehr news agency earlier quoted a source close to Khatami as saying it was probable that the two might get together briefly on the sidelines of the AoC. Both the Iranian embassy in Ankara and the foreign ministry in Tehran said there were no plans for a meeting.
Khatami, president from 1995-2005 and viewed as a “moderate” in the Iranian context, does not currently hold an official position in Iran. Last month he dropped out of the running for presidential elections in June, although some supporters are hoping he may relent before the end of April deadline for candidates to register.
Obama in a Persian New Year message last month expressed the desire for “a new beginning” in relations between the U.S. and Iran, offering “engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.” Ties have been frozen since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Obama repeated the invitation during his speech to Turkish lawmakers in Ankara on Monday, saying the U.S. sought engagement with the Islamic Republic of Iran “based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”
“We want Iran to play its rightful role in the community of nations. Iran is a great civilization. We want them to engage in the economic and political integration that brings prosperity and security.”
Obama said Iran’s leaders needed to choose whether they would develop nuclear weapons or build a better future for their people.
Iranian politicians across the spectrum – Khatami among them – uphold the country’s right to a nuclear energy program. Tehran denies charges by the U.S. and its allies that the program – which Iran hid from the international community for two decades until it was exposed by regime opponents in 2002 – is a front for developing a nuclear weapons capability.
The AoC is a U.N. project co-sponsored by Turkey and Spain aimed at improving relations between Islam and the West, and built in part on the foundations laid by Khatami’s theory of “dialogue among civilizations.”
Addressing the AoC forum on Monday, Khatami said wars that had taken place between different cultures and civilizations were not caused by those differences, but were the result of political and economic factors.
“Dialogue is the best way to heal the wounds of this tragic world,” he said.
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow