TEHRAN, JUNE 28 -- One year after the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, some of Iran's most radically anti-American clerics have been shifted to the fringes of power on issues such as release of the U.S. hostages in Lebanon and wider economic contacts between Iran and the West.

The recent debate here over whether Iran should accept earthquake aid from its Western and Arab adversaries is only one aspect of what former interior minister Ali Akbar Mohtashemi called a "psychological war" within Iran for control of the country's Islamic revolution in the wake of Khomeini's death.

For the moment, the most extreme anti-Western radicals, such as Mohtashemi, appear to be losing that war.

In an interview with The Washington Post and the Japanese daily Yomiuri Shimbun at the offices of his new anti-American magazine, Mohtashemi acknowledged that he was forced to step down from his powerful cabinet post last year. The resignation occurred when President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani moved to replace some ideological radicals in the government with a cabinet that shared his commitment to revitalizing Iran's economy with the aid of Western capital.

Mohtashemi also acknowledged that while he was revolutionary Iran's ambassador to Syria during the early 1980s, he helped establish the radical Shiite groups in Lebanon that later attacked the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut and participated in the kidnapping of U.S. hostages.

Iran helped establish the radical groups and "they were supported by the Islamic Republic of Iran and by me as ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran. If you think that is effective in their formation, then let it be so," Mohtashemi said. He denied any personal involvement in the attack on the U.S. Marine barracks or any hostage takings.

Despite the apparent waning of his influence in contemporary Iranian politics, diplomats say Mohtashemi remains a powerful voice to some of the Lebanese Shiites who continue to hold U.S. hostages.

"Imam {Khomeini} was the founder of a revolution," Mohtashemi said. "Following his demise, the enemies, internal and external, have been taking advantage of his absence and thus putting increasing pressures on Iran to give up on its principles and retreat."

Mohtashemi said his political opponents had overstated Iran's economic difficulties "to imply that by breaking the barrier against the return of the United States, economic problems would be solved, but they are making a mistake."

Since stepping down from the post of interior minister, where he controlled Iran's police and revolutionary security committees, or komitehs, Mohtashemi has remained a member of Iran's parliament. This month he launched a colorful political magazine that mainly espouses unflinching anti-American views.

But diplomats say Mohtashemi and those who have preached isolationism and appeared to support the holding of U.S. hostages by Lebanese Shiite radicals have become increasingly marginalized. The reason, they say, is that Rafsanjani, regarded as relatively pragmatic and open to the West, has been able to assert himself in parliament and the executive branch.

"Mohtashemi has been the mouthpiece of the radicals. He has a platform," said one diplomat. "But where it's really counted, Rafsanjani has shown that he has the power to do what he wants."

There is no easy way to distinguish between radicals and pragmatists in Iran's parliamentary government. Virtually all of the members share a revolutionary Islamic ideology and express antipathy toward the United States. While leaders considered especially anti-American, such as Mohtashemi, have fallen out of power, other anti-Western radicals have moved into prominent posts, such as the hard-line parliamentary speaker, Mehdi Karrubi.

In recent months Mohtashemi and his radical allies have formed a clearly defined anti-U.S. minority in Iran's government, asserting themselves in key political debates over the future shape of Iran's Islamic revolution and the extent of the country's relations with the West.

One example, Iranians and diplomats said, was the tangled series of events that surrounded the release this spring of two U.S. hostages who had been held by radical Lebanese Shiites in Beirut.

The move for release appeared to begin in Tehran, where the English-language Tehran Times, which is considered close to Rafsanjani, began to publish editorials saying that U.S. hostages held in Lebanon should be set free without conditions.

Initially, radicals such as Mohtashemi were silent about the issue. But when an ally of Rafsanjani suggested in a Persian-language newspaper article that Iran should hold direct talks with the United States, the anti-Western radicals in Tehran exploded, virtually accusing the writer of treason and warning that any contact with the United States would be disastrous for Iran.

After the hostages were released, with Syrian assistance, and the Bush administration decided against any reciprocal gesture, the radical faction in Iran's parliament again asserted itself. The hostage release, said the radicals, proved that pragmatism toward the United States would do Iran no good.

At one point during the uproar, Mohtashemi's faction introduced a bill in Iran's parliament that would have made it illegal for Iran ever to establish diplomatic ties with the United States. But Rafsanjani's group had the bill dropped in favor of a declaration that Iran's first foreign policy order was to fight against Israel.

During the interview, Mohtashemi reiterated the Iranian government's position that it is not involved with the holding of U.S. hostages in Lebanon. He argued that it would be "a mistake for Iran to interfere in the process of hostage release," because to do so would only confirm "this propaganda that Iran has influence."

"Iran must not fall into this trap at all," he added. "The problem is basically an internal affair of Lebanon."

Later, however, Mohtashemi acknowledged Iranian influence over the Lebanese Shiites, saying, "Yes, Iran has spiritual influence among all Moslems and if they {Shiite radicals} feel that Iran wishes for something, then they might go along with that."

For most of the years after Iran's 1979 revolution, the political base of anti-Western extremists lay with the often young and radical members of Iran's Islamic revolutionary institutions, such as the Revolutionary Guards and the komitehs.

While they remain powerful forces in Iranian politics and society, there are signs that with the Iraqi war concluded and Rafsanjani firmly in power, those revolutionary institutions may be losing some of their radical edge.

For example, after a vocal fight with radicals in parliament, Rafsanjani's administration has pushed through a merger of komitehs with ordinary police departments. Such a merger would bring the nation's internal security apparatus more under the control of an ordinary bureaucracy.

Mohtashemi said the debate over the future of the komitehs, which have been the guardians of the Iranian revolution's most radical domestic policies, is not one of deep philosophical differences. But he added: "Personally I am opposed to this merger because I think any country needs a committed special force. The merger will make them {komitehs} lose their identity. {Will that be} harmful to the system? I hope not."

Special correspondent Sharif Imam-Jomeh contributed to this report.