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Thu, 2002-12-26 03:00

LAHORE, 26 December 2002 — Iranian President Mohammed Khatami said yesterday residents of Kashmir should decide the fate of the disputed province as he wrapped up a three-day visit to Pakistan that focused largely on security, politics and business.

During his stay in Islamabad, the capital, Khatami broached a host of sensitive issues with his Pakistani counterparts, including Iran’s intention to push forward with a nuclear power plant that Washington fears could help it develop atomic weapons.

He also said he would help mend relations between Pakistan and India, and gave what appeared to be support for Pakistan’s proposal for a referendum on Kashmir.

"As a Muslim, a human and an Iranian, I believe the atrocities in Kashmir are intolerable. The Kashmir issue should be resolved according to the wishes of Kashmiris," he said.

"I appeal to Pakistan and Indian governments to hold talks and resolve the Kashmir issue amicably."

Khatami, who is the first Iranian leader to visit Pakistan since 1992, also discussed Afghanistan, where Pakistan and Iran in the past have often found themselves backing different forces. During his stay, the two nations said they now widely agreed on Afghan issues.

Pakistan and Iran also declared their opposition to any unilateral military action against Iraq. "Both sides expressed concern about the current situation in Iraq," according to a joint communique issued at the end of Khatami’s visit.

"They opposed any unilateral or pre-emptive military operation against that country and underlined the central role of the United Nations in this regard," it said.

At a joint news conference with Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali, the Iranian president said Tuesday "there is nothing between Pakistan and Iran that can’t be resolved through negotiations."

The neighbors have said they are eager to foster better economic ties. They hope that will include a $3.5 billion gas pipeline running from Iran through Pakistan to India. The deal hasn’t been finalized, largely because of deep tensions between Pakistan and India.

Khatami offered to help ease the enmity between the two South Asian nuclear rivals and to address any reservations India might have about the pipeline, which experts say could provide major economic benefits to all three countries.

Addressing a gathering of businessmen in Lahore, Khatami called the project "the pipeline of peace and friendship," adding that Iran "regards it as a symbol of the strategic economic ties between our two countries."

At a reception in Lahore, where the Iranian president was greeted by enthusiastic crowds, Khatami urged Muslims to unify. "We need to be united, not against any one, but united to solve our problems," he said. "People have had enough of terrorism. It is time to unite and to spread peace and justice for progress."

While in Lahore, Khatami visited Pakistan’s Shahi Mosque, which houses the tomb of Pakistani philosopher and poet, Allama Iqbal. (Agencies)

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