MEETING IRANIANS AT THE UN, KHATAMI INVITES THEM TO COME HOME AND INVEST

By Safa Haeri, IPS Editor at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, NEW YORK 20 SEPT. (IPS) As the Iranian president ayatollah Mohammad Khatami arrived in New York amidst almost unseen security measures, diplomatic sources in Europe speculated that the ruling conservative leadership may profit from his absence to order Iranian forces to attack neighbouring Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

In a three hours long meeting with 800 carefully hand picked Iranians residing in the United States that took place at the United Nations, Mr Khatami said to prevent a war with Afghanistan "at this moment one needs priers".

UN sources talking to the IPS described the meeting as an unprecedented event due to the size of the people invited.

Taking questions form both the audience and other Iranians who were calling on him on the internet or by telephone, Mr Khatami unleashed at the Taleban whom he described as a "gang of extremist criminals carrying criminal activities under the sacred name of Islam".

The Iranian 54 years-old president arrived in New York Saturday to address the forthcoming session of the General Assembly that opens on Monday.

Iranian and UN sources ruled out a meeting between Mr Khatami and president Bill Clinton but confirmed that Mrs Madeleine Albright will meet her Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharrazi in the framework of the Afghanistan Neighbours Conference.

This will be the first high level meeting between American and Iranian officials since the coming to power of the ayatollah Khatami more than a year ago.

Mr Khatami justified the unprecedented Iranian military concentration at its borders with Afghanistan as he accused the Taleban to undermine Iranian stability and security because Tehran's efforts to stop the Taleban's export of hard drugs to lucrative European markets.

Iranian president's harsh words for the Taleban came as the Amir al Mo'menin, or the supreme leader if the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan reiterated his desire to see the Iran-Afghanistan conflict be solved peacefully.

Earlier, acting under pressures from Pakistan and in a move to prove their "good will" towards Iran, the Taleban who now control more than 95 per cent of Afghanistan freed five Iranian prisoners. Flown from the Afghan City of Qandehar the prisoners then flew to Tehran, accompanied by Iran diplomatic envoys.

In his speech to the General Assembly, Mr Khatami is expected to call on the UN and all other international agencies to put more pressures over the Taleban to "behave according to international laws and conventions".

Though the UN's Security Council has already condemned "energetically" the Taleban for the assassination of Iranian diplomats and urged a deep investigation of the event that it described as "criminal", Iran says it is not satisfied and on Friday, a senior hard line Iranian cleric urged Mr Khatami to use his visit to the UN to condemn both the United States and the world organisations for their leniency towards the Talebans.

The General Assembly's session will be overshadowed by the decision of the Congress to make public Monday the videotapes of Mr Clinton's testimony to the Grand Jury, as all major US television networks are planing to give it wide coverage.

Addressing a cheerful audience that would applaud warmly after every answer, a smiling and jovial Khatami said Iran needed to modernise its laws and adapt them to the modern world realities.

He invited the Iranian successful business community to come and invest in Iran, promising to introduce better conditions to attract foreign investments.

"To come and invest in Iran, foreign investors are looking at you. If you come and invest in your homeland, they will come as well", Mr Khatami told the audience.

He defended the record of Iranian women and their rights even though all women present at the meeting were dresses "islamically". There were also many bearded hezbollahi. ENDS KHATAMI AT UN 2099813