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White House Flatly Denies Change in Policy Toward Iran - 2002-07-23

The White House Tuesday denied a published report that it is abandoning efforts to work with reformists in Iran. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says there has been no change of policy on Iran.

He is denying a story in The Washington Post that says the Bush Administration has concluded that Iranian President Mohammad Khatamai and his reformist allies are too weak. Quoting unnamed U.S. officials, the newspaper says President Bush believes those leaders are "ineffective and not serious about delivering on their promises" of establishing a society less dominated by religious hard-liners.

Because of that assessment, the newspaper reports the Administration has decided to abandon a five-year-old effort to encourage the reform agenda and will instead appeal directly to democracy supporters among the Iraninan people. "That's not the case," Mr. Fleischer told reporters. He says the United States "will continue to engage Iranian officials when useful," in multilateral settings on issues of political concern.

For example, Mr. Fleischer says U.S. officials dealt with their Iranian counterparts last year at an international conference on the political future of Afghanistan. President Bush says Iran is part of an "axis of evil" along with North Korea and Iraq, that could help terrorists acquire weapons of mass destruction.

In a statement earlier this month, Mr. Bush said a "vast majority" of Iranians have voted for political and economic reform, but, he said, their voices are not being listened to by what he called "the unelected people who are the real rulers of Iran."

Mr. Fleischer says the president remains concerned about what he calls "destructive Iranian behavior" and again called on the country's leaders to end their support for Hezbollah and other groups opposed to Israel.

Speaking in Malaysia Tuesday, President Khatami accused the United States of steering the world along a "frightening" path toward war in its fight against terrorism. He said any U.S. military action against neighboring Iraq would threaten regional stability.

He added that Tehran would have "no problem" with Washington if it abandoned what he called its "humiliating policies" toward Iran.