New Iranian president offers prospect of peace with the world

Tehran (AP) - Mohammad Khatami, a moderate cleric confirmed yesterday as Iran's new president, said his country wants peaceful co-existence with the rest of the world. The outgoing president, Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, handed over the leadership at a ceremony attended by ministers, officials and ambassadors.

"What is seen as the transfer of power in other countries is little more than the transfer of responsibility in the Islamic Republic," said Hojatoleslam Rafsanjani, a moderate, and Hojatoleslam Khatami's political ally, who has stepped down after two four-year terms.

Hojatoleslam Khatami, the Islamic Republic's fifth elected president, won the election in May with 20 million votes, compared to 7 million for the hard-line challenger, Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri. In his speech, he said Iran wanted peaceful co-existence, but made an oblique reference to problems with the United States. "Internationally, we seek peace ...but because we want this for all of humanity, we oppose the high-handedness of certain big countries."

The vote for Hojatoleslam Khatami, 54, was seen as a mandate to ease Islamic strictures imposed after the 1979 Islamic revolution and to forge ahead with reforms to combat inflation and unemployment. But hard-liners may use their majority in the Majlis, or parliament, to challenge his choice of ministers and to stall policies.

And although Hojatoleslam Khatami's ideas on women, youth and the role of religion are radical for an Iranian cleric, he is not expected fundamentally to change Iran's foreign policy or clergy-dominated politics.

t Bonn -Germany's Foreign Ministry rejected overtures from Iran to allow the return of ambassadors from European Union nations to Tehran, Reuters reports. Earlier, Hojatoleslam Rafsanjani indicated that ambassadors of EU states may now return to Tehran, but Bonn's envoy must be the last.

A German Foreign Ministry spokesman said such comments did not alter Bonn's understanding of the current EU policy of keeping Tehran ambassadors at home. All EU states bar Greece recalled their ambassadors from Tehran after a German court concluded in April that Iran's leaders had ordered the 1992 assassination of four Iranian Kurdish dissidents in a Berlin restaurant.