Bush signed off on Khatami visit

President Bush personally signed off on a visa allowing former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami to visit the United States because he wanted hear his views, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.

Khatami, who was Iran’s president from 1997 to 2005, is the most prominent Iranian in decades to visit the United States, outside of the United Nations’ New York headquarters.

His five-city speaking tour is controversial given U.S. accusations Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, sponsors terrorism and arms Hizbollah guerillas in Lebanon.

“I was interested to hear what he had to say,” Bush told the Wall Street Journal in an interview. “I’m interested in learning more about the Iranian government, how they think, what people think within the government.”

Khatami, viewed as a reformist, ceded power last year to current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a conservative who has called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” and has been an outspoken critic of U.S. policies.

“My hope is that diplomacy will work in convincing the Iranians to give up their nuclear weapons ambitions. And in order for diplomacy to work, it’s important to hear voices other than Ahmadinejad’s,” Bush added.

Khatami has stressed themes of dialogue and co-existence during his U.S. tour, which includes a speech he gave at the Washington National Cathedral on Thursday and an appearance on Sunday at Harvard University.

© 2006 Reuters