Iran’s Spiritual Leader Opens Summit of World’s Muslim Leaders by Calling the United States
Iran’s Spiritual Leader Opens Summit of World’s Muslim Leaders by Calling the United States and Israel the Enemies of IslamBy ANWAR FARUQI
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ Iran’s spiritual leader opened a summit of the world’s Muslim leaders today, saying it was not his Islamic regime but the ``poisonous breath″ of the United States his guests should fear.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf a real threat to the region, and said that since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution Tehran has been a victim of plots by the ``global arrogance″ of the United States.
The crown prince of Saudi Arabia and the emir of Kuwait _ key allies of the United States and host to American military bases _ sat impassively in the conference hall, listening to Khamenei’s opening speech to the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
``For 18 years now, the political designers of arrogance are breathing their poisonous breath to make our neighbors in the Persian Gulf fearful of Islamic Iran, which holds the banner of unity and brotherhood,″ Khamenei said.
``I declare that Islamic Iran poses no threat to any Islamic country,″ added Khamenei, Iran’s top authority.
After identifying Israel and the United States as the main enemies of Islam, Khamenei called for unity, asking rhetorically ``What can the United States do vis-a-vis the united front of the Islamic countries, ranging from Indonesia to North Africa?″
The eighth OIC summit _ which is being attended by more than 50 rulers, presidents, prime ministers and their representatives from Muslim nations _ is the largest gathering of international leaders in Iran since the revolution that ousted the pro-Western Shah.
Iran hopes to use the meeting to make new friends out of old foes like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which bankrolled Iran in its 1980-88 war against Iraq.
The Saudi representative, Crown Prince Abdullah, is the highest Saudi official to visit Iran since the revolution.
But more than wooing the Kuwaitis and Saudis, Khamenei’s vitriolic comments were likely to discomfit them.
Saudi Arabia has been extremely nervous about criticism of its U.S. bases since the June 1996 bombing of a U.S. military barracks in the eastern city of Dhahran, which killed 19 American airmen.
The Saudi rulers fears that foreign criticism will embolden Islamic activists at home who are opposed to the country’s close links with the United States. Also, Saudi Arabia has been inching away from Washington since the bombing.
Last month, the Saudis and most other Arab countries boycotted a U.S.-backed regional economic conference in Qatar to protest against Israel’s presence.
But State Department spokesman James Foley dismissed as insignificant the fact that the OIC summit was better attended than the Qatar conference, saying the OIC is an established institution.
Saudi Arabia and other gulf countries, which have been derided by Iran in the past as American lackeys, hope that Iran’s President Mohammad Khatami, a moderate cleric who took power in August, will ease previous hard-line policies and help forge new friendships.
Khatami’s government, however, is locked in a tug-of-war with radicals clustered around Khamenei.
During his opening remarks, Khamenei also blasted the Middle East peace process. But apparently out of diplomatic tact he did not name any Arab nations such as Egypt, Jordan, Oman and Qatar, which have diplomatic or commercial ties with Israel.
``Our opposition to the so-called Middle East peace process is because it is unjust, arrogant, contemptuous, and finally illogical,″ said Khamenei.
``Perhaps the existence of an enemy such as Israel in the heart of the Islamic land could have brought us closer ... (but) right now we fear each other more than we fear the enemy,″ said Khamenei.
With U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan present as an observer, Khamenei also called on the world body to give it a permanent seat and veto power in the five-member U.N. Security Council.