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Iranian leader: Dialogue is needed, but U.S. isn't ready

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami called Wednesday for dialogue as a solution to global conflicts but said he felt there was no chance for political talks with the United States because of a lack of respect for Tehran's Islamic government.

Back in Iran, a senior government official said several of the 24 ministers and six vice presidents submitted letters of resignation protesting the antireformist Guardian Council's disqualification of nearly half of the candidates in next month's parliamentary elections. But the resignations have yet to be accepted, he said.

"A number of ministers and vice presidents have resigned, but they are waiting for the outcome" of the disqualification controversy, said Mohammad Ali Abtahi, vice president for parliamentary affairs. He did not name those who had submitted resignations or give an exact number.

Iranian state news media reported that the Guardian Council, which had disqualified nearly 3,600 of the 8,200 people who applied to be candidates for the Feb. 20 elections, reinstated 100 candidates. This is in addition to the 200 who were reinstated Tuesday.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Khatami drew warm applause when he said in his keynote speech, "Partnership and security will only come about as a result of dialogue."

At a news conference later, however, he made clear that dialogue with Washington should start with cultural exchanges.

"The dialogue that I spoke of is between cultures and civilizations, between scholars and wise men," Khatami said. "If those are realized, then we can have political dialogue as well."

"The prerequisite for any kindof dialogue is the mutual respect between the two partners to the dialogue. Any time we sense that the other side respects us and isn't forcing anything on us, we are prepared to talk. We have not sensed that from the United States."

The Iranian president, dressed in a black robe with black turban, said in a veiled reference to the United States that military power has limitations in bringing security.

"Military might may perhaps bring transient security," he said. "But the gap between this type of security is the difference between a security based on armed peace and peace based on compassion and friendship toward humanity."

Khatami laughed when he was asked if he is afraid of a hard-line U.S. policy that President Bush says forced Libya and Iran to back off attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Khatami was unequivocal in rejecting the Bush administration's allegations that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. Noting that his government had allowed U.N. inspectors to tour Iran's nuclear facilities, he said his nation has nothing to hide.

Asked if he would speak with Vice President Dick Cheney, who arrives this week at the conference of government and business leaders, Khatami said he was speaking of a process that would begin with an exchange of scholars and improved cultural ties.

Khatami predicted there would be free elections in Iran next month and indicated that his reform movement would contest the balloting despite threats to resign over attempts by hard-liners to disqualify his allies.

"With the will of God, we will have a good election," Khatami said.

The confrontation in Iran began after the hard-line Guardian Council rejected the candidates, most reformists. In reaction to the disqualifications, more than 60 reformist Parliament members began a sit-in that is in its 11th day.

The country's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, intervened last week, ordering the reinstatement of all sitting members of Parliament and a re-evaluation of the nonincumbents.

The council is expected to announce its final decision by Feb. 10, and it has given no indication yet as to how many independent and reformist candidates would be allowed to run.

Reformers argue that by withholding its decision until 10 days before the election, the council is hoping to damage reformers' chances to campaign effectively. Accordingly, a coalition of 18 proreform parties said that it planned to announce today whether it would take part in the elections.

Abtahi said Wednesday that according to a report by the Interior Ministry, reformist candidates have been banned from competing for 180 of the 290 seats.

_ Information from the Associated Press and New York Times was used in this report.