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Iran Leader Khamenei Increases Vehemence of Anti-U.S. Rhetoric

By Robin Wright
Los Angeles Times

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran has given his toughest anti-American speech in years, vehemently condemning rapprochement with the United States in an attempt to halt the growing policy debate on the issue within the new Iranian government.

Khamenei, in a speech to Iranian students, declared that the nation's "destiny" now depends on resisting recent suggestions that Iran change its long-standing policy toward the United States. He specifically ruled out compromise on three critical issues that Washington views as essential to reconciliation: Iranian opposition to Middle East peace, its support of groups viewed in the West as extremist and its programs that the United States fears are developing weapons of mass destruction.

In the United States, the remarks drew a mixture of alarm and disappointment from government officials and private analysts who had seen reason for hope in the upset election six months ago of President Mohammad Khatami, a reform-minded former culture minister, over a ranking hard-liner backed by Khamenei.

Since the election, Tehran and Washington have toned down their rhetoric and talked publicly of a new interest in dialogue - the most serious diplomatic probing in a decade. "I would very much like it if they would take a different course,' President Clinton said last week.

After reading a translation of Khamenei's speech, a senior U.S. official noted Thursday that the angry language was just the kind of talk Washington hoped had ended.

But experts contended that Khamenei's intended audience is Iran's new government as much as it is the United States. Khamenei lashed out at "rumormongers" and "U.S. agents" at home who are now saying that, if the country "were to resume ties or even start talks with the United States, all our problems would disappear." He called those suggestions nonsense.