Iran reformist defends Khatami's female "hand-shake" picture

Iran reformist defends Khatami's female "hand-shake" picture Tehran  - A senior Iranian reformist has defended presidential candidate Mohammad Khatami after a picture circulated on the internet of him shaking hands with a woman during a foreign trip, the Fars news agency reported Thursday.

Shaking hands with women in public is strictly forbidden in Iran, especially for officials, as according to Islamic regulations men are not allowed to touch women who are strangers.

Khatami, who is the reformists' top candidate to take on incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was reported to have shaken hands with the woman in Italy two years ago.

Reformists fear that the picture may be used against Khatami by ultraconservative circles ahead of the June election.

"If necessary and if national interests are at stake, then shaking hands with foreign women is no issue and not even opposed by Islamic jurisprudence," said Mostafa Koakabian, head of the reformist party Mardomsalari.

"What Khatami did was out of expediency and there should be no ballyhoo (by the ultraconservatives) over the issue," the reformist added in a meeting with students in Semnan in north-eastern Iran.

While foreign diplomats in Iran are familiar with the Islamic regulations and avoid shaking hands with the opposite sex, the situation gets more delicate for Iranian officials abroad where foreign officials and especially ordinary people do not know about the regulations and hence consider the rejection of the hand-shake as impoliteness.

Iranian diplomats abroad are often embarrassed when female officials - or wives of officials - reach out their hands but they have to reject owing to the regulations.

"For example shaking hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel is necessary. If Merkel reaches out her hand it should not be rejected as we are dealing there with national interests," Koakabian said in a meeting with students.

Khatami and Ahmadinejad will face each other in the June 12 presidential election. While Khatami is the candidate of the reformist and moderate wings, Ahmadinejad is supported by the ultraconservative circles and the clergy. (dpa)