Saturday, April 19, 2008

Ex-Iranian leader to speak at uni faith forum

FORMER Iranian president Mohammad Khatami has accepted an invitation from Melbourne University to headline an interfaith conference in June to discuss the Middle East conflict.Mr Khatami will be the first former or current Iranian head of state to visit Australia.

The 64-year-old leader - who completed his second term as the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 2005 - has been invited to deliver a keynote speech at the annual Globalisation for the Common Good conference, which will be hosted by Melbourne University.

Conference organisers last night told The Weekend Australian Mr Khatami was expected in Melbourne for the five-day event. "He has accepted an invitation," conference co-convener Ruwan Palapathwala said. "He has told us that he is coming."

Dr Palapathwala said the former president was invited because he was considered a moderate but respected voice in the Middle Eastern debate. "We saw him as the most prominent moderate speaker who can make a significant contribution about the conflict in the Middle East and seeing the conflict as a conflict of civilisation."

It is understood the Rudd Government was yet to schedule any formal appointments with Mr Khatami.

However, it would be remarkable if the former president of so powerful and important a nation as Iran were not seen by at least the Foreign Minister, and perhaps the Prime Minister. Iran, and concern about its apparent efforts to obtain nuclear weapons, remain at the top of the international security agenda.

Conference manager at Melbourne University's Trinity College, Mark Gordon, said at least 100 senior religious leaders from around the world from denominations including Islam, Judaism and Hinduism were expected to attend the seventh annual event was launched by Britain's Oxford University in 2002. He said several leaders had already registered.

Mr Khatami was the hope of the international community within Iranian politics. He was succeeded by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who's been openly hostile towards the West and called for the destruction of Israel.

Mr Khatami was seen as a moderate eager to liberalise life for ordinary Iranians and who was open to dialogue with the West, especially the US.

On its website, the international five-day conference, to be held in Australia for the first time between June 30 and July 4, lists among its objectives, "in-depth discussions on the Middle East and Asia-Pacific regions."

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