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Wednesday, 26 September, 2001, 18:23 GMT 19:23 UK
Analysis: The two sides of Iran
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei bitterly attacked the US
By the BBC's Middle East analyst Roger Hardy

Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has attacked the United States accusing it of seeking to exploit the current crisis to spread its influence in Central Asia.

In contrast the foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi, has said that if the US has evidence of who carried out the attacks against New York and Washington, it's entitled to act in self-defence.

So which is the true voice of Iranian foreign policy?

Competing factions

Western visitors to Tehran can be forgiven for thinking there are two Irans, not one.

The reformist president, Mohammed Khatami, was quick to denounce the suicide attacks in the United States two weeks ago.

Fighters from the Lebanese Hezbollah group
Iran fears its support for Hezbollah could make it a target for attack
He has sought to use the ensuing crisis to improve Iran's often troubled relations with the outside world.

But now the supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has intervened - in the most forceful manner - to warn against American meddling in Central Asia.

In so doing, he's making it clear that he, not the elected president, is the final arbiter in Iranian affairs.

His remarks are a sharp reminder to the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and his European Union counterparts of how difficult it is to deal with a country where political power is fragmented between competing factions.

Suspicions

The conservatives - who look to Ayatollah Khamenei for leadership - are largely hostile to the ruling Taleban movement in Afghanistan.

But at the same time they are deeply suspicious of American intentions - fearful that President Bush's campaign against terrorism may begin with the Taleban but then move on to other targets - such as the Lebanese group Hezbollah, which Iran continues to support.

See also:

26 Sep 01 | Middle East
EU woos Iran with coalition deal
25 Sep 01 | Middle East
Iran to be shown terror evidence
25 Sep 01 | South Asia
Pakistan warns of Afghan instability
21 Sep 01 | Europe
EU leaders back US retaliation
22 Sep 01 | Middle East
New EU peace drive in Mid-East
19 Sep 01 | Europe
EU acts on terrorism
10 Sep 01 | Middle East
Iran and EU hold historic talks
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