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Powell Criticizes Iran's Conservative Religious Leaders - 2003-11-11

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has delivered a sharp attack on Iran's conservative religious leaders. Mr. Powell underscored comments made by President George Bush last week, calling for democratic reform in the Middle East. He says Islam is compatible with freedom and pointed to nations, such as Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar and Yemen, which have shown signs of democratic reform.

Mr. Powell says the Iranian people want reform. "The Iranian people want their freedom back. Of this there can be no doubt," he says. "They do not want to banish Islam from their lives -- far from it. They want to be free of those who have dragged the sacred garments of Islam into the political gutter."

Mr. Powell says Iranians have risked imprisonment and death, in their struggle for reform.

Last month, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to greet Iranian Nobel peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi, when she returned to Iran.

The American secretary of state says Iran's rulers should understand the meaning of that greeting. "The hidebound clerics of Iran know what it means, too. Should they be worried? Does morning follow night. They should be," he says.

Mr. Powell made his remarks to students and faculty at his alma mater, City College of New York.

The Monday night address was part of an event marking the 100-anniversary of the birth of Nobel Prize Laureate Ralph Bunche -- an African American who served as a U.S. and United Nations diplomat and educator. While Mr. Powell delivered his speech, a few hundred students gathered outside to protest the American presence in Iraq.

Despite a rising casualty toll, Mr. Powell says American forces will stay the course and destroy terrorists and remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime.