TEHRAN - Iranian President Mohammad Khatami has "strongly denied" Israeli media reports that he shook hands with Israeli President Moshe Katzav and spoke with him at Pope John Paul II's funeral at the Vatican, the official Iranian news agency IRNA reported Saturday.
"These allegations are false like all the other allegations (by the Israeli media) and I have not had any meeting with a personality from the Zionist regime," Khatami was quoted as saying on his return here.
Israeli media reported Friday that during the requiem mass in St Peter's Square, Katzav, who is of Iranian origin, shook the hand of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and exchanged a few words in Persian with Khatami.
During the brief exchange between Khatami and Katsav, the two leaders discussed the central Iranian town of Yazd where they were both born, the media said.
Khatami said on his return: "We have repeated many times that morally and logically, we do not recognize the existence of the state of Israel ... which was created by force and usurpation" of Palestinian rights.
He said that Iran "would not do anything against the Middle East peace plans ...but the world should know that as long as the legitimate rights of the Palesitnian people are not recognised, these peace plans will not achieve anything."
Iran has been accused of backing the radical Palestinian movements Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which are against any peace with Israel.
As he got off the plane from Rome, the Israeli president told the on-line newspaper Yediot Aharonot: "The Iranian president was sitting on my left. At the end of the ceremony we both went out and exchanged a few words in Farsi (Persian)."
He added: "When heads of state meet, they always shake hands. I do not think it could be said that the ice has been broken and that any political significance should be attached to these polite exchanges."
According to the Israeli media, Katzav and Khatam exchanged a "salaam aleikum" which means "peace be with you" in Persian.