WASHINGTON (AP) _ The State Department condemned reported comments by the Malaysian prime minister that Jews were trying to block development of his primarily Muslim nation and sabotaging its currency.

``We strongly condemn any statements linking Jews or other ethnic groups and financial difficulties of Malaysia or other countries,'' spokesman James Rubin said Wednesday. ``We would find the reported statement, if it were made, unfounded and unjustified and difficult to comprehend.''

Rubin said it would not contribute to solving economic problems and showed ``an illogical understanding of the international system.''

He noted that Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad subsequently denied he had said there was a Jewish conspiracy.

Mahathir is credited with turning the small Southeast Asian nation from a tin- and rubber-producing backwater into one of the region's economic tigers since he came to power in 1981.

The annual economic growth rate has reached 8 percent for the last decade and living standards among Malaysians have improved dramatically.

But since a currency crisis struck the region in mid-July, Malaysia's ringgit has depreciated by 20-30 percent and the stock market has dropped to all-time lows. Many financial analysts have blamed investor queasiness on Mahathir's seemingly racially charged attacks against foreign currency speculators.

He has called them ``criminals'' and ``rogues'' who should be banned from business. His favorite target is George Soros, a Jew.