INTERNATIONAL

Bush speech bellicose, insulting: Iran

Manama (Bahrain) Jan. 31. The Iranian leadership, shedding the tensions between reformers and conservatives for the moment, lashed out at the U.S. President, George W. Bush's State of the Union address, especially that part of it which included Iran in an "axis of evil''.

Mr. Bush's surprisingly harsh statement on Iran and the expectedly strong backlash from it seems to have put an end to whatever degree of rapprochement that had developed on account of their common approach to the Taliban. The prospects opened up by the internal changes in Afghanistan have obviously revived the competition between Iran and the U.S. for dominance in Central Asia.

While the Iranian President, Hojatolesslam Syed Mohammed Khatami, described Mr. Bush's statements in respect of his country as "bellicose and insulting'', the former President, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, has called on the Muslim world to stop selling oil to the U.S.. The Foreign Minister, Kamal Kharazi, is reported to have cancelled a planned trip to New York. Mr. Kharazi has, somewhat intriguingly, described the statement as interference in Iran's internal affairs and the general refrain was that Mr. Bush was trying to divert attention from Israel's actions against the Palestinians.

The U.S. Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld's statement on Wednesday appears to show that Washington is not as displeased with Iranian action on the Palestinian front as it is with Teheran's actions in Afghanistan. Following up on a host of news reports, commentaries and official statements critical of Iran's growing influence in western Afghanistan, Mr. Rumsfeld has said that Iran appeared to be strengthening centrifugal forces in Afghanistan instead of working for cohesion in that country. Washington could most certainly not have been as naive as to think that Iran would be indifferent to developments just across its eastern borders or that it would not use the influence it has over people who share their culture in Herat and other Afghan centres.

It was inevitable that others would rush to fill the vacuum that developed with the collapse of the power structure represented by the Taliban. While the U.S. might feel that it has some kind of a prior entitlement to exploit all the possibilities, primarily the access to Central Asia, that have opened with the collapse of the Taliban, Iran has no reason to feel particularly deferential, especially since its opposition to the Taliban was of older vintage than that of the U.S. and since it too feels that Central Asia belongs to its sphere of influence. Given these longer term interests, it was perhaps inevitable that the working relationship that had lasted through the military campaign against the Taliban and through the intra-Afghan talks held in Bonn, would have come to an end.

AFP, PTI report:

The Iraqi Vice-President, Taha Yassin Ramadan, rejected Mr. Bush's charge that Iraq was a terrorist state as ``stupid and indecent'' and stood firm that Baghdad would not accept a return of U.N. arms inspectors.

``The remarks of President Bush are stupid and indecent,'' Mr. Ramadan said. ``It is not right for a President who is supposed to be leader of the greatest country to accuse this or that state of being a source of evil,'' he said.

China on Thursday condemned Mr. Bush's usage of the term ``axis of evil'' to describe Iraq, Iran and North Korea, but welcomed his resolve to step up cooperation with Beijing to maintain regional and world peace and stability.

``The Chinese side does not favour the use of such terms in international relations,'' a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

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