Iran’s supreme leader rules out siding with any U.S.-led anti-terror coalition
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran’s supreme leader said in a blistering speech Wednesday that his nation would not participate in any U.S.-led coalition against terrorism, taking a tough line despite many Iranians’ expressions of sympathy for Americans.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called U.S. behavior ”disgusting” and said in a state-run television address to the nation that Iran does not consider the United States ”competent and sincere (enough) to lead any global campaign against terrorism.”
U.S. officials had publicly raised the possibility of working with Iran as the United States retaliates for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The prime target of an attack would be Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, who is believed to be harbored by Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers.
In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, reformist President Mohammad Khatami had expressed ”deep regret and sympathy with the victims.” Many Iranians signed a condolence book at the U.S. interest section at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran and some 4,000 of them held a candlelit vigil for the American victims – though hard-line vigilantes broke it up.
But Khamenei – a hard-liner who outranks the president – took a much tougher line against the United States in Wednesday’s speech, rejecting Bush’s declaration that nations had to choose between being ”with us or terrorism.”
”We are not with you,” he said. ”At the same time, we are not with terrorists. America is not sincere in fighting terrorism. It has other objectives. America’s hands are stained with all the crimes committed by the Zionist regime,” he said.
America’s behavior, by expecting help but not earning the respect of other nations, was ”disgusting,” Khamenei said.
The United States has not had diplomatic relations with Iran for 22 years, leaving a gap that cannot easily be bridged even with crisis as an impetus.
”Iran will not participate in any move under U.S. leadership. Iran will not extend any assistance to the U.S. and its allies in attacking the already suffering Muslim neighboring Afghanistan,” Khamenei said in his address to families of soldiers killed in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
The United States says Iran sponsors terrorism by providing weapons to Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon for their attacks on Israel. Iran steadfastly opposes Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and accuses Washington of being biased toward the Jewish state.
On Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had praised the Iranian stance toward the attacks, after Iran’s Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi reiterated his government’s position on the need to reach international consensus to eradicate terrorism. But Straw, on the highest level British visit to Iran since 1979, added that he had not brought any message from Washington.
Other Iranian officials – both hard-liners and reformists – have said the country opposes any unilateral retaliatory U.S. strike against Afghanistan, even though Iran has long opposed the Afghan leadership. Khamenei’s remarks were the clearest yet in response to suggestions that Washington may call on Iran to join a U.S.-led global force to fight terrorism.
The United States wants Mideast support – from the use of military installations and airspace to intelligence – as it builds forces for an expected assault on bin Laden’s operations in Afghanistan.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said 10 days ago that the United States was considering seeking Iran’s support and said ”perhaps there are new opportunities” to wean Iran away from supporting terrorism.
Earlier, Richard Haass, head of policy planning for the State Department, told the BBC: ”Iranians made a very positive statement in response to” the attacks on America.
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