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Iran Criticizes President Bush's Comments on Dissident Cleric - 2002-07-14


Iran is objecting to President Bush's criticism of Iran's conservative religious leadership and support for a dissident cleric who resigned last week.

In a statement published in a newspaper, the foreign ministry spokesman said Mr. Bush is using what "bold and decayed tactics" to create discord between Iranians and their government. Hamid Reza Asefi is quoted in the Farsi-language Iran newspaper as saying the U.S. leader does not understand Iran's reform movements.

On Friday, President Bush denounced Iran's "uncompromising, destructive policies." He also expressed support for Iranians rallying behind Isfahan's prayer leader Ayatollah Jalaleddin Taheri.

The popular cleric resigned last week after sharply criticizing hardliners in the government who are trying block reform efforts initiated by President Mohammad Khatami.

A liberal newspaper has been shut down for violating a ban on publishing comments about the resignation, while the publishers of seven other liberal newspapers have signed an open letter to President Khatami to reverse the order.

Hardliners opposed to Mr. Khatami's reform efforts have closed down more than 50 newspapers and detained or jailed political activists who support his programs.

The English-language daily Tehran Times called President Bush's comments a flagrant violation of all established international laws, norms, rules, and regulations. The newspaper said the remarks show the U.S. administration is becoming more isolated in the international political arena because of its policies in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Iran increased its attacks on the U.S. administration after President Bush last January described Iran as part of "an axis of evil," along with Iraq and North Korea. Mr. Bush also accused of Iran of expanding its support for terrorist groups in the Middle East and its weapons programs.

Iranian reformers have complained the U.S. comments have undermined their efforts to improve Iran's international image and repair relations with the United States. The United States severed diplomatic ties after the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.