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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 May, 2003, 14:41 GMT 15:41 UK
Iran blasts US criticism
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami speaks at the opening of the OIC meeting in Tehran
Khatami said Iraq should choose its own leaders
Iran's top leaders have forcefully rejected US allegations that Tehran is harbouring terrorists, interfering in Iraq and seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei denounced the United States in a speech to Iran's parliament on Tuesday.

Both President Mohammad Khatami and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi used speeches at a meeting of Islamic states in Tehran on Wednesday to criticise recent statements out of Washington.

Tensions between the US and Iran are high at the moment, derailing a slight warming in relations earlier in the year.

Ayatollah Khamenei was scathing about Washington's description of Iran as part of an "axis of evil".

"We have to do this and that so they will remove us from the axis of evil. What kind of talk is this? Who do they think they are?" he asked.

He urged members of parliament to refuse to give in to US pressure.

Iraq

Separately, Iran's President Khatami rejected US warnings that Tehran should not to try to build an Islamic republic in Iraq.

Mr Khatami said the "Muslim people of Iraq" had a right to expect "a political regime chosen by the Iraqi people".

Mr Kharrazi, for his part, cautioned Washington against "unilateralism".

Donald Rumsfeld
Rumsfeld: Iran being "unhelpful" regarding Iraq
Their remarks came after US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, on Tuesday warned that Iranian "efforts to remake Iraq in Iran's image will be aggressively put down".

Speaking the same day, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the US suspected that weapons development was at the heart of Iran's nuclear industry.

He also called Iran's steps against the al-Qaeda network "insufficient".

Nuclear concerns

Mr Kharrazi rejected the nuclear allegation.

"Any concern over countries' non-compliance with weapons of mass destruction needs to be dealt with through international co-operation," Mr Kharrazi said at the Organisation of the Islamic Conference meeting.

"The resort to force, or directing unverified accusations... will only undermine the current international arrangements," he said.

Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is due to report on Iran's nuclear programme on 16 June.

Washington hopes the IAEA will turn the heat on Iran by signalling grave doubts that its network of nuclear facilities is merely designed for power generation.

An Iranian foreign ministry spokesman was equally firm in denying US claims that Iran was not taking strong enough measures against al-Qaeda.

"It is the US which is not really serious in fighting terrorism," Hamid Reza Asefi said.

The issue of Iran is said to have revived the split between moderates in the Bush administration who favour diplomacy and hardliners who prefer more robust action.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Jane Bennett-Powell
"Tensions have been rising despite attempts by some in Washington and Tehran to improve relations"



SEE ALSO:
Analysis: US talks tough to Iran
28 May 03  |  Middle East
Iran press responds to US threats
28 May 03  |  Middle East
Analysis: Iran-US rift widens
25 May 03  |  Middle East


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