Iran's Religious Leader Renews Anti-U.S. Rhetoric

By Karl Vick
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, June 5, 2006

TEHRAN, June 4 -- Ayatollah Ali Khamenei unleashed a flurry of broadsides Sunday at the United States and other countries confronting his government over its nuclear program, saying that suggestions of a consensus against Iran were "a lie."

"There is no consensus against Iran. This is a lie by the U.S. and a few other U.S. supporters," Khamenei, the country's supreme leader, said in a speech. "Some 116 member states of the Non-Aligned Movement supported Iran's brave achievements in nuclear technology. The consensus is among a few monopolist countries. Their consensus is of no value."

Khamenei, marking the anniversary of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's death 17 years ago, echoed the themes on which his predecessor constructed the government's foreign policy: disdain for the West, hatred of the United States, and pride in the notion of Iran as an example for disempowered Islamic and developing nations.

The speech offered no evident support for a new package of incentives and possible penalties being offered to Iran by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany. Nor did Khamenei express interest in the Bush administration's historic offer to engage in direct talks with Iran if it suspends uranium enrichment.

Khamenei warned the United States that Iran would respond to any "wrong move" by disrupting "energy flow in the region," an apparent reference to the oil tankers that transit the Strait of Hormuz.

"You will never be able to defend the security of energy supplies in this region," he said. "We would not initiate war. We do not want war with any state. We have noble ideas. We intend to use our resources to bring material and spiritual prosperity to our nation and make it a model for other nations."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice deflected the remarks in an interview on "Fox News Sunday." Noting that Iran relies on oil exports for most of its revenues, she said that "we shouldn't place too much emphasis on a threat of this kind."

"What we should place emphasis on is Iran's opportunity to find a way out of this impasse," she said.

In recent days, several Iranian officials have said Tehran would consider the package after it is formally delivered later this week but objected to suspending the enrichment of uranium. Analysts said it was unclear whether Khamenei's speech was meant to beat back expectations of a breakthrough or to shore up the government's conservative flanks because it was considering moves that would infuriate hard-liners.

"Generally, the leader has always been cynical about Washington's interests toward Iran," an Iranian analyst said on condition of anonymity. "From the revolution to today, he's gotten the idea the U.S. only wanted to talk when there's a tactical reason to do so, and the long-term strategy remains to topple the regime."

"If the Bush administration changed its mind in the past few days," the analyst added, "things don't move that fast in Tehran."

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