Iran's supreme leader accused U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday of following the same wrong policies as the Bush administration with his "unconditional" support of Israel. The Iranian criticism came during a meeting of pro-Palestinian dignitaries in Tehran.
Iranian government TV broadcast scenes from a gathering of hardline Islamic and Palestinian dignitaries from 80 countries for what was being called the Fourth Annual Conference for the Support of Palestine. Delegates denounced Israel, proclaiming "victory" in the recent Gaza conflict and praised the hard-line Hamas movement.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in the opening speech at the conference that President Obama spoke of change during his campaign but supported Israel's devastating three-week offensive against the Gaza Strip earlier this year.
He says that even the new American president, who came to office with the slogan of bringing change to the policies of the Bush administration, avows unconditional support for Israel's security, which means defending state terrorism, injustice and oppression, as well as a 22-day long massacre of hundreds of Palestinian men, women and children. This, the Ayatollah said, is the same path of the Bush administration.
The Israeli offensive in Gaza started in late December, before Mr. Obama took office. At the time, Mr. Obama mostly deferred to Mr. Bush when asked for his position, saying there could only be one U.S. president. But during the campaign, he spoke in support of Israel's right to defend itself from Palestinian attacks.
The Iranian conference coincided with a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the Palestinian Territories, where she met at length with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. During her visit, Clinton pledged strong U.S. backing for a two state solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.
Clinton also took part in Monday's international conference in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, where donors pledged more than $5 billion to help rebuild the war-torn Gaza Strip.
The two-day Tehran conference is also being billed as a fundraiser for Gaza and Ayatollah Khamenei insisted that all the money raised should go to Hamas, which he called the "legitimate government of Palestine."
Khamenei called for a referendum of all those residents of historic Palestine, whom he termed "legitimate," to determine the fate of the Holy Land.
He says that he is proposing a solution which is democratic in principle and which serves as a logical basis for everyone. All those who have a legitimate stake in the territory of Palestine, he says, including Muslims, Christians and Jews should choose the structure of their ruling system in a general referendum. He says that Palestinian exiles must also participate in the referendum.
Mr. Obama has said his administration is looking for opportunities to engage Iran to help reduce tensions between the two countries - particularly related to Iran's nuclear program.
Khamenei's comments Wednesday highlighted how difficult it will be for the Obama administration to improve relations given the deep disagreements on both sides on issues like Israel and Iran's nuclear efforts.