Iran's Khatami Denies Handshake with Israeli Leader
by Parisa Hafezi
TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) - Iran's President Mohammad Khatami strongly denied that he shook hands with Israeli President Moshe Katsav at Pope John Paul's funeral, the official IRNA news agency said on Saturday.
Katsav earlier said he shook hands with Khatami and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the funeral on Friday, when hundreds of international dignitaries gathered in the Vatican to pay homage to the late Pope.
But Khatami told IRNA after his return from Italy: "I strongly deny shaking hands, meeting and talking to the Israeli president."
"This claim is like other baseless claims made by the Zionist media in the past," he said.
Syria's official news agency on Friday confirmed that Assad shook hands with Katsav but said it was just a formality, adding that the two leaders did not exchange any words. Syria is formally at war with Israel.
The Pope has been praised by many as a force for peace and the Church invites people at its masses to offer each other a sign of peace such as a handshake. Catholics also often exchange words like "Peace be with you."
The Israeli and Syrian delegations were seated next to each other at the funeral.
"I told him 'Good morning' and he shook my hand," Katsav, whose post is largely ceremonial, told Israel's Channel 2 television of his encounter with Assad.
Israeli and Syrian negotiators last held peace talks in 2000 that foundered over the future of the Golan Heights occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war.
Iranian-born Katsav said he spoke in his native Farsi to Khatami about their common city of birth.
"The president of Iran extended his hand to me, I shook it and told him in Farsi, 'May peace be upon you'," Katsav said.
Israel has accused Iran of supporting anti-Israeli militants and has been a fierce critic of its nuclear program.
Iran officially refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist and supports the Palestinian cause.
"Recognizing Israel means recognizing occupation and force ... it will be a blow to humanity," Khatami told IRNA. "Morally and logically we do not recognize the Zionist regime."
"A blow to humanity" is actually the fact that much of the world is ruled by the most pathetic sissies.