Former Iranian President Says Pressure on Tehran Creating Another Mideast Crisis

Mounting pressure on Iran to abandon its nuclear program is creating another crisis in the Middle East, former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said Friday.

Khatami, speaking at a gathering sponsored by the U.N. University in Tokyo, defended Iran's "legitimate right" to develop nuclear energy, saying the program is completely peaceful and poses no threat.

He warned, however, that pressure aimed at forcing Iran to abandon the program is "creating another crisis in a region that is already ready to explode."

The U.N. Security Council has set a deadline of Aug. 31 for Iran to freeze enrichment, but the United States and others say Iran's response this week to a package of incentives to halt its nuclear program was unsatisfactory.

Khatami said the policies of the western nations in the Middle East are promoting violence, although they are supposed to be aimed at fighting terrorism.

"Our nuclear program is a peaceful one completely," Khatami said. "We are not trying to create an international crisis, though some countries are trying to do that."

Khatami is a noted Islamic scholar whose moderate policies in religion and politics, especially his view of the U.S., were opposed by hard-liners in Iran. He was Iran's leader from 1997 until 2005, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an ultraconservative, became president.

But while moderate by Iranian standards, Khatami is outspoken. On Friday, he particularly singled out U.S. policy in the Middle East for criticism, saying it is fomenting tensions.

"Many of the policies that the big powers are promoting are promoting violence, although in the name fighting terrorism," he said. "This is like pouring gasoline on a fire."

He also called Washington's policy on nuclear weapons and non-proliferation hypocritical.

"We are seeking peaceful usage, we have no need for nuclear weapons," he said. "If nuclear weapons are so bad, why do they have hundreds of nuclear warheads?"