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Iranian Minister Responds to Bush

February 3, 2002

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NEW YORK (AP) _ A high-ranking Iranian official in New York for the World Economic Forum said Saturday that Iran was ``shocked and disappointed″ by President Bush’s comments earlier this week that it is part of an evil axis of terrorist nations.

Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Adeli said Bush’s comments during his State of the Union speech were inconsistent with the cooperative relationship Iran and the United States had developed in their fight to oust the Taliban from Afghanistan. Bush said Iran, Iraq and North Korea constitute an ``axis of evil.″

``The situation that we have now in Afghanistan, militarily and also politically, is the result of understanding and cooperation between Iran and the United States, and the other forces that engaged in the war against Taliban,″ said Adeli, the highest-ranking Iranian attending the forum.

Earlier this week, however, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei _ the most powerful figure in Iran _ denounced Bush and called America ``the most hated Satan in the world.″ President Mohammad Khatami, a moderate who has engaged with the United States, said Bush ``spoke arrogantly, humiliatingly, aggressively and in an interfering way _ and worse than anything, it is an insult to the Iranian nation.″

``We have been shocked and disappointed that contrary to what was developing and had been achieved, we had something totally unexpected,″ Adeli said. ``We think this should not be the reward for cooperating after a long period of time.″

Iran and the United States have not had ties since the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Iran condemned the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, however, which led officials to explore the chance of closer relations.

Following the attacks, the United States quietly praised Iran for its help in the war on international terror. Iranians and Americans have worked together to fight the Taliban and to create Afghanistan’s new government.

But this week Bush charged that Iran was after ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, and Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed concern that hardline elements of the Iranian government may be trying to exercise ``undue influence″ over the new government in Afghanistan.

Adeli said the ``undue influence″ comment did not make sense, considering that Iran has been involved in Afghanistan for the past 20 years, and that Iranians had helped in the anti-Taliban campaign.

``It’s ridiculous, a claim of this kind of things,″ he said. ``The magnitude of involvement of Iran inside Afghanistan was tremendous. Now we are directing all of this toward the central authority of Afghanistan.″

A very stable and strong central government in Afghanistan, he said, ``is in our national interest.″

``We think all countries in the region and outside the region should support the central government and we have used every influence we have to convince all regional leaders to support the central government,″ he said.

Adeli dismissed Bush’s accusations that Iran was seeking to build a ballistic and nuclear weapons arsenal and said reports that Iran supplied the weapons found on a ship intercepted by Israel in the Red Sea last month were ``fabricated.″

Israel said those weapons were destined for the Palestinians.

``We have never, ever given any weapons to Mr. (Yasser) Arafat,″ he said, referring to the Palestinian leader.

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