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Khatami Says 'Radical Warmongers' Drive US Policy

27 April 2002

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami blasted US Middle East policy in an interview published here, saying it was driven by 'radical warmongers.'

Khatami, whose nation was lumped with Iraq and North Korea in George W. Bush's "axis of evil," said the US president was acting against the best interests of the United States.

"After the tragic September 11 events the United States abused world sympathy, and Israel activated its lobby and took advantage of Bush's lack of experience," he told the International Herald Tribune.

He said the Bush administration "fell victim to this trap, against US interests."

Bush's "axis of evil" speech in February appeared to put on a hold a thaw between Washington and Tehran's Islamic regime, who have not had diplomatic relations since 1980.

Iran assisted the US drive to topple the Taliban regime in neighbouring Afghanistan as part of its war on terrorism after the September 11 attacks in the United States.

But Khatami's comments reflected the outrage in the Muslim and Arab worlds over US backing for Israel's assault on the Palestinians, which Israel also calls a war on terrorism.

The paper reported that he said a "radical warmonger" group was willing to risk an escalating conflict in the Middle East in order to back Israel and install US military power in the region.

He said Bush's hardline stance against Tehran had hardened "national solidarity" in Iran, where Khatami has led a reform movement kept at heel by the regime's powerful conservatives.

An Iranian opposition leader told AFP in Tehran earlier this month that Bush's "axis of evil" speech had set off "national reconciliation" between Iran's sparring political movements.

Tehran has denied US allegations that it has been selling arms to the Palestinians or harbouring al-Qaeda fighters who fled Afghanistan.

Khatami told the paper that Iran was ready for better relations with the United States if Bush would move away from "the language of evil."

He was speaking in Kazakhstan during a Central Asia tour as Tehran vies with the United States for influence over the region's vast gas and oil reserves.

Iran is thought to be alarmed at the foothold the United States has secured in Central Asia since September 11, with US and allied troops now stationed in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Agence France Presse report © 2002 AFP

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