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Thursday, 31 January, 2002, 22:09 GMT
Iran lashes out at Bush
Iranian man and anti-US mural
Mr Bush's speech has led to new anti-US rhetoric
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has denounced George W Bush, describing him as the bloodthirsty president of "the Great Satan".


The Islamic Republic of Iran is honoured to be the target of wrath and anger of the most hated Satan in the world

Ayatollah Khamenei

His comments add to the fury expressed by other Iranian officials at President Bush's labelling of Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "axis of evil".

But undaunted, Mr Bush on Thursday again warned countries the US suspects of developing weapons of mass destruction or sponsoring terrorism, telling them to "get their house in order."

"They need to know... our intention is to hold them accountable and the rest of world needs to be with us, because these weapons can be pointed at them as easily as us, and we cannot let terror and evil blackmail the United States or any other freedom-loving country," Mr Bush said.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
"Iran will support the Palestinians whatever the US threatens"
In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Mr Bush had singled out Iran, Iraq and North Korea and said they were attempting to develop weapons of mass destruction.

US officials said the speech did not signal imminent military action, and Washington was still prepared to hold talks with Iran.

'Bloodthirsty'


US Marine in Kandahar
"War on terror" not over
1. Iraq: Suspected of wanting to pursue programmes to develop nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and missile developments
2. Iran: Listed by US as state sponsor of terrorism. Washington says Tehran plans to develop weapons of mass destruction
3. North Korea: The US's main concern has been missiles and other weapons programmes and willingness to export sensitive technology

See also:
Detailed clickable map

The BBC's Jim Muir in Tehran says Iranian officials feel genuinely aggrieved that what they regard as their enormous contribution over Afghanistan should be repaid with such hostility from the US president.

Iran has hosted more than two million Afghan refugees for years and it supported anti-Taleban groups long before the 11 September suicide attacks on the United States.

"The [US President] speaks like a man thirsty for human blood," Ayatollah Khamenei told journalists from Islamic countries, in a speech also broadcast in part on Iranian state radio.

"There are some satans in the world, but America indeed is the Great Satan," Ayatollah Khamenei said, following on from strong comments by Iran's reformist President Mohammad Khatami and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, who cancelled a visit to New York in response to Mr Bush's speech.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran is honoured to be the target of wrath and anger of the most hated Satan in the world," Ayatollah Khamenei declared.

He added that Iran would continue to support the Palestinian cause without concern for US threats.

President Khatami, who does not normally criticise foreign leaders, said Mr Bush had been "bellicose and insulting," while Mr Kharrazi condemned the "arrogant remarks".

Iraqi anger

And in Iraq, the official Al-Iraq newspaper called the United States "the sole evil on earth."

The Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, was reported to have cut short a visit to Moscow to return to Baghad for talks on Iraq's response.

A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said President Bush's comments were "little short of a declaration of war."

Interference

The US was Iran's chief ally before the 1979 Islamic revolution. It broke ties in 1980 after militant students seized the US embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.

In recent years, the two sides have edged closer, including co-operation initially on Afghanistan.

But US officials have been angered by what they view as Tehran's increasing efforts to interfere in post-Taleban Afghanistan and by Iran's alleged involvement in a recent shipment of weapons to Palestinians fighting Israel.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jim Muir
"It is a field day for the old guard"
See also:

30 Jan 02 | Americas
'Suspects' condemn Bush speech
30 Jan 02 | Americas
Iran accuses Bush of war-mongering
19 Jan 02 | South Asia
US warns Iran on Afghan militants
27 Dec 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Iran
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