Katsav, Iranian listeners get emotional on the radio

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's Iranian-born president hosted an emotional radio talk show with listeners from his native country, even as Israeli and Iranian leaders have traded barbs in recent days over Tehran's nuclear program.

The broadcast earlier this week on the Persian service of Israel Radio linked President Moshe Katsav with listeners from all over Iran, service director Menashe Amir said Wednesday.

It was the first time Katsav has addressed Iranians on the radio since assuming the largely ceremonial presidency in 2000.

Katsav chatted in a mix of Hebrew and Farsi with Iranian listeners who called in during Monday's program, recalling his fondness of the country he left as a boy.

"My family lived in Iran for over 2,500 years,'' he said. "We absorbed the Persian culture and mentality, and we nurture in our hearts very warm feelings for Iran's history and culture.''

Katsav's comments and those of listeners, reported in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Achronot, were confirmed by radio officials.

Israel and Iran have been bitter enemies since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution. Iran regards Israel as a consistent violator of Palestinian rights and has called for its destruction; Israel says Iran supports terrorists and is pursuing a nuclear weapons program that threatens world peace.

Israel Radio reaches more than 1 million listeners in Iran and can be heard over the radios of shopkeepers in Tehran's markets, said Amir, who translated for Katsav.

A caller from Yazed, where Katsav was born, asked for help for a sick relative, saying he believes Israel has the best medical system in the world. Katsav said he would do his best, noting that many of his relatives are buried in Yazed and that the city remains close to his heart.

The president "was clearly moved'' by speaking to the Iranians, who showed great interest in developments in Israel, Amir said.

The broadcast came just one day after Israeli Foreign Minister Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana — fresh from talks in Tehran — that Iran's nuclear program constitutes a "grave threat'' to the world.

Iran insists it is not seeking to make atomic weapons and that its nuclear program is only for generating electricity.

Last month, the Iranian government warned Israel against attacking its nuclear installations, saying any such attempt would be a serious mistake.