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Iranian President: US on 'Frightening Path' Towards War - 2002-07-23

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said he fears the United States is steering the world toward war in its fight against terrorism. His remark follows U.S. media reports that the Bush administration is scrapping a five-year effort to engage the moderate Muslim cleric.

On the second day of his four-day visit to Malaysia, President Khatami told reporters that Iran considers the United States to be on a "frightening path" toward war.

He said while he agrees that terrorism is a horrendous and dangerous phenomenon, he thinks U.S. actions in the aftermath of last September's terrorist attacks have created an environment of war and fear throughout the world.

Mr. Khatami said Iran is particularly concerned about reports that the United States may launch an attack on neighboring Iraq to oust President Saddam Hussein.

He warned that such an attack would only destabilize the region and anger the world's one billion Muslims further. He said Iran which fought a bitter eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s - condemns any foreign interference in Iraq.

The Iranian leader's remarks come on the heels of a report Tuesday by the U.S.-based newspaper, The Washington Post.

The paper said that Mr. Bush is ready to abandon efforts to work with President Khatami and his reformist allies in the Iranian government. Mr. Bush wants to instead focus on appealing directly to democracy supporters in Iran.

According to the Post newspaper, the shift follows an intense debate within the administration over whether to adopt a harder line against Iran. Mr. Bush accuses Iran of developing weapons of mass destruction and has labeled it part of an "axis of evil," along with Iraq and North Korea.

Mr. Khatami in office since 1997 was reelected last year by a wide margin. But hard-line clerics have consistently blocked his efforts to reform the government. The Washington Post quotes a senior Bush administration official saying the United States has lost faith in Mr. Khatami and his allies to deliver on their promises.

Washington cut ties with Tehran after radical Iranian students seized the U.S. Embassy in 1979 and held dozens of people hostage for 444 days. The United States has tried to engage Iran in official talks since Mr. Khatami came into office, but Iran has rejected the offers.