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Iran's president: Ready to help Iraq

Khatami is greeted after arriving in Lebanon Monday.
Khatami is greeted after arriving in Lebanon Monday.

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The president of Iran embarked on a rare visit to Lebanon, the first by an Iranian leader in nearly 25 years. CNN's Brent Sadler reports. (May 12)
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BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Iranian President Mohammad Khatami told tens of thousands of banner-waving, cheering Lebanese supporters Tuesday that Iran "is ready to cooperate" to help Iraq seize a "new opportunity" in developing a new government after the fall of the "tyrant" Saddam Hussein regime.

Speaking at the Cite Sportive stadium during a visit in Beirut, Lebanon, Khatami said it is important that Iraqis don't fall under a new form of injustice. He said he hopes all Iraqis participate to form a new government in the country.

"We are ready to cooperate to accomplish this goal," said Khatami, who called for "one Iraqi, one vote."

In Iraq, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim has repeatedly called on the U.S.-led military coalition to leave Iraq.

Hakim -- leader of Iraq's largest Shiite Muslim group, Iran-based Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution -- is calling for a democratic Islamic government to replace the Saddam regime and the U.S. interim administrator. (On the scene)

Khatami's Lebanese visit came as the United States exerted pressure on both Lebanon and Syria not to provide backing to Hezbollah, the Lebanese-based group that has launched attacks against Israel.

Iran has been a strong supporter of Hezbollah, whose leader met with Khatami Tuesday.

The U.S. State Department considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization, but in the Arab world the group is praised as a leader of the resistance against Israel.

Khatami noted the U.S. pressure on Syria and Lebanon and said he hopes the U.S. government does not foment any new crises in the aftermath of the Iraq war. He warned that Israel, a U.S. ally, is exploiting the end of the war to further its ambitions.

The Iranian president, making the first visit of an Iranian head of state to Lebanon since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, made remarks about terrorism, the Israeli-Palestinian situation and Lebanon.

He praised Lebanese culture and politics, saying the Christian-Muslim nation is a model for a stable society with different religions and factions.

"Lebanon is a cradle of logic and prudence and walking toward peace and stability," he said.

He said terrorism in the name of religion is a "serious danger," but he did not call for complacency in the fight against "hegemony and repression."

While Khatami called for "a continuous dialogue between cultures and to work toward an alliance for spreading peace," he said this does not mean surrendering under force or running from Islamic principles.

The United States and Israel have accused Iran of backing terrorism in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Iranian and U.S. officials recently met in Geneva, Switzerland, to engage in dialogue.

As for Israel and the Palestinian territories, he said, "any road to solve the Palestinian issue will fail if it does not end at giving the Palestinian people the right to form their country" and restore the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their historical homeland.

"Palestine" is a unique case, he said. "It represents a case of a country under occupation," he said, calling it the "chronic" problem in our region.

"The resistance will continue as long as there is injustice."

But Khatami said "that resistance is not coming from outside," he said. "Let the others try to comprehend and understand this fact."

In his January 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush labeled Iran as part of an "axis of evil" along with Iraq and North Korea. He said all three were trying to develop weapons of mass destruction and were sponsoring terrorism.

CNN Beirut Bureau Chief Brent Sadler contributed to this report.

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