Iran, like its neighbor Iraq and the Palestinian guerrilla groups which each supports, has rejected President Bush's charge that it is part of an "axis of evil," and has reasserted intentions to continue fighting Israel's occupation of what it says is Palestinian territory.
However, earlier but virtually unnoticed, an important anti-Saddam Hussein Iraqi opposition group, headquartered in Tehran and with official Iranian backing, in effect endorsed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein "within the framework of the [U.S.-led] war against terrorism."
Tehran, like Baghdad, defended the Palestinian militant groups, Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, insisting that Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza were "victims of Israeli terrorism."
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi and the influential and extremist-inclined former president, Hashemi Rafsanjani, scorned Bush's accusations that Tehran sponsors terrorism.
Kharazi said Iran considers the U.S. charges "interference in its internal affairs. With these arrogant remarks, the American government unmasks its true face and proves its desire to spread its hegemony and divert American public opinion for continued backing of Israel in its repression of the Palestinian people," according to the official Iranian news agency IRNA.
Rafsanjani amplified Kharazi's remarks. He also called for a repeat of the petroleum boycott last seen nearly 30 years ago, by Muslim and Arab oil states of the United States. Rafsanjani pointed out that Washington is "affected by economic recession...If we refuse to sell the Americans our oil, they will have to kneel down and stop supporting Israel."
Rafsanjani's suggestion runs dramatically counter to many on-the-record declarations by the major oil producers, led by Saudi Arabia, that oil will never be used again as a political weapon against Israel's supporters in the West, as it was in the wars of 1948, 1967 and 1973.
In Damascus, Syria, and in Beirut, Lebanon, the Islamist guerrilla groups, Hamas, Islamic Jihad for Palestine and Hezbollah, all supported by Iran, issued defiant statements rejecting U.S. support of Israel, and vowing to continue "the struggle against Israeli occupation" of Arab land. All warned the United States against targeting them or their host countries in Bush's "war on terrorism."
A Change in Tone
However, analysts at the oil journal, Middle East Economic Survey (MEES) in Nicosia, Cyprus, resurrected and published what it called "an important statement" given last Dec. 23 to Reuters in Tehran.
It was issued by Shi'ite Muslim Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, leader of the Iraqi opposition group, Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). The organization is based in Tehran.
"The ruling regime in Iraq," it said, "is a terrorist regime which should be targeted within the framework of the war against terrorism."
"And if there is an international commitment to respect Iraq's independence and refrain from from interference in its internal affairs, then SCIRI would welcome the launching of international military attacks to impose a change of regime in Iraq."
The statement describes Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime as a terrorist regime. It calls for the "international community" to change this regime. It also welcomes a U.S. attack on Iraq, so long as Iraq's independence and internal affairs are not interfered with.