Iranian President Mohammad Khatami launches on Monday a series of tours of Central Asian countries. He is to attend a summit of Caspain states in Ashkhabad, capital of Turkmenistan, as part of the tour, the press service of the Iranian presidential administration told RIA Novosti. The Central Asian tour by the Iranian President will last 9 days and will include visits to Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. At negotiations with high-ranking officials of the regional countries Khatami will discuss international and regional problems and ways to expand bilateral and multilateral contacts. At the Ashkhabad summit to be held on April 23rd-24th the heads of the Caspian Five will exchange opinions on Caspian problems and outline directions to reach agreement on the legal status of the sea. Hamid Reza Assefi, the official spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, said that "the working out of a co-ordinated agreement on the legal status of the Caspian Sea is a long process and should be carefully considered." Iran's stance remains the same and is based on a 20-percent condominium division of the sea's bottom and water. Mehdi Safari, a special representative for the Caspian Sea and Iranian deputy foreign minister, stated that "the Caspian agenda is not confined to the legal status only and includes such aspects as environmental security and the joint use of bio-resources." On Monday, on the eve of the Ashkhabad summit, the working group on the Caspian Sea will hold a session at the level of deputy foreign ministers of the Caspian Five to finally co-ordinate the documents to be later considered by the presidents of Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.
The remarks from the Pope came as "a very strong step towards degradation," "given the rather massive nature of homosexuality" among the Catholic clergy.