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Political Analyst Looks at US 'Axis of Evil' Charges and Iran's Reaction - 2002-02-04

In his State of the Union address last week, President Bush named Iran as part of "an axis of evil" that supports terrorism.

President Bush is not the only U.S. official making accusations against Iran. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Sunday he had no doubt that the Iranian government has helped members of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network escape into Iran.

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi reacted by saying, "It would be better if American leaders expressed themselves on the basis of real facts and not their imagination, and if they furnished some proof."

Mr. Asefi said no member of the al-Qaida network has been authorized to enter Iran, adding "our borders are closed and we are blocking all illegal entry."

Sa'id Idris is the editor-in chief of Iran Digest Magazine and an expert on Iran for the al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. Mr. Idris, who recently returned from a trip to Tehran, said Iranian officials believe President Bush's remarks were motivated by American frustration over a wide range of political differences between Washington and Tehran, ranging from Afghanistan and Iraq to Israel.

Mr. Idris said Iran and the U.S. are in dispute over the future of Afghanistan. He said Iran refuses to become involved with the United States in a war against Iraq because Iran wants to preserve strong relations with the Arab world.

He said, "Iran does not recognize the legal presence of Israel and is calling for a just settlement supportive of the Arabs in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict." Finally, he said, "Iran continues to support Lebanon's Hezbollah," a group the United States has defined as a terrorist organization.

Mr. Idris said the Iranian government is very upset over the president's remarks and hopes to convince the rest of the world they are untrue.

Mr. Idris said, "certainly there are concerns and Iranian fears over the American accusations." But, he said, "Iran believes that whatever the American president is saying should not be accepted by every country in the world."

The analyst said in the coming days Iranian media and Iranian diplomats will intensify their efforts to respond to the American charges.

The U.S. severed its diplomatic relations with Iran in 1980, several months after Islamic radicals seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took 52 hostages, who were held for 444 days.