- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 5, 2009

RAMALLAH, West Bank | Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday to keep out of Palestinian politics after the ayatollah called for armed “resistance” against Israel.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who met with Mr. Abbas, later echoed Mr. Abbas’ warning. She also said that she heard repeated concerns about Iran from Arab officials throughout the region this week.

Ayatollah Khamenei made his remarks Wednesday in Tehran at a summit, which was organized to rival the donors’ conference for Gaza that was held in Egypt on Monday and attended by Mrs. Clinton.

The ayatollah said that resistance is “the only way to save Palestine.”

“Support and help to Palestinians is a mandatory duty of all Muslims,” he said. “I now tell all Muslim brothers and sisters to join forces and break the immunity of the Zionist criminals.”

The comments appeared to have enraged the usually calm Mr. Abbas, who issued the terse warning to Iran with his fist clenched.

“We are sending a message to the Iranians and others: Stop interfering in our affairs,” he said at a news conference with Mrs. Clinton during her two-day visit to Israel and the West Bank. “They are interfering only to deepen the rift between Palestinians.”

Mr. Abbas and his U.S.-backed government are locked in a political struggle with the militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza and enjoys steadfast support from Iran.

Egypt is trying to mediate talks between Mr. Abbas’ Fatah faction and Hamas to form a national unity government, but so far no agreement has been reached.

Mrs. Clinton called Ayatollah Khamenei’s comments “clear interference in the internal affairs of the Palestinian people, [and a] continuing effort on the part of the Iranians to undermine the Palestinian Authority.”

“President Abbas responded appropriately to what were comments made at the highest level of the Iranian government today,” she said. “I think he spoke forcefully on behalf of his people and the Palestinian government.”

Mrs. Clinton, who met with many Arab foreign ministers at the Gaza donors’ conference in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik, said they brought up the subject of Iran. On Tuesday, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal called for a joint Arab strategy to deal with the Iranian “challenge.”

“There is a great deal of concern about Iran from the entire region. I heard it over and over and over again in Sharm el Sheik, in Israel, in Ramallah,” said Mrs. Clinton, who pledged $900 million to the Palestinians at Monday’s conference.

Still, she did not rule out dealing with Iran on issues of mutual interest, such as Afghanistan, on which Washington and Tehran cooperated in the early days of the U.S.-led military campaign against the Taliban and al Qaeda after Sept. 11, 2001.

“Where it is appropriate and useful for the United States and others to see whether Iran can be constructive, that will be considered,” Mrs. Clinton said.

The Obama administration has offered to engage with Iran broadly, but officials have expressed doubts that the current regime in Tehran will be responsive to U.S. overtures. Ayatollah Khamenei said Wednesday that the new administration is no different from its predecessor, because it supports Israel.

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