- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2002

NICOSIA, Cyprus Iran's Islamic rulers have stepped up anti-American propaganda in what diplomats consider to be an about-face after last fall's overtures to the United States.

The change, according to diplomats, was triggered by what is perceived by Iran to be U.S. backing for Israeli repression in the Palestinian territories.

The long-awaited thaw in the relations between Washington and Tehran has been replaced by a barrage of official and semiofficial Iranian statements stigmatizing U.S. support for the Jewish state.

Diplomats describe the statements as being in sharp contrast to earlier indications that Iran was willing to cooperate in the U.S. war on terrorism and even share intelligence on the Taliban after the September 11 attacks on the United States.

In a series of recent statements and television appearances, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi stated bluntly that the Muslim countries "will never experience real peace with Israel" and that the Jewish state will remain "an entity foreign to the region, created on the basis of colonialist and imperialist aims."

Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, the "supreme guide" of Iran's Islamic revolution, has branded President Bush as "a thirsty vampire," wrote the Tehran daily Jomhuri-ye-Eslami.

"The alliance of the English with the Americans in backing the bloodthirsty regime of Israel has became brazen and shameless and has totally isolated England within the framework of the European Union. Israel is a Western tool to undermine the unity and create division inside the Islamic world," the newspaper said.

Diplomats in the area say Iran's verbal broadsides are likely to exacerbate the growing anti-American mood in most Arab countries.

According to one diplomatic assessment, "Iran has a big role in the area and is being listened to."

Some Iranian statements and diplomatic notes have made direct references to the deadlock in U.S.-Iranian relations, stressing a deterioration due to the events related to the Palestinian uprising.

The main signal from Tehran was summarized by Mohammed Javad Larij, a former member of the Majlis (parliament) who said that, "U.S. policy in Islamic countries has been discredited because of the events in Palestine."

However, Mr. Kharazi, the Iranian foreign minister, did not slam the door on the dialogue with Washington in his latest televised interview on Tehran's Network 2, saying Iran was willing to resume indirect contacts "but only on the basis of equality and dignity."

"Lack of relations between Iran and America has had some positive outcome for us. We advanced in our search for self-sufficiency. We proved that it is possible to live without America. Of course, we have paid the price in economic and political spheres. But this is that path that we chose to safeguard our honor and dignity," Mr. Kharazi said.

The United States, he said, "has shown so far that it wants relations with Iran but based on hegemony."

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