Former Iran leader urges Bush on 'axis'
By NASSER KARIMI, Associated Press Writer
TEHRAN, Iran - Iran's former president urged President Bush on Friday to remove the Islamic republic from his so-called "axis of evil" and warned Washington not to consider military intervention in his country.
Hashemi Rafsanjani, the Iranian president between 1989 and 1997 and now the head of the Expediency Council that mediates between the parliament and ruling clerics, said Bush "made a strategic mistake. He should exclude Iran from the circle (axis of evil) that he has made."
Bush used the term in his 2002 State of the Union address to describe Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Iran and North Korea, states he said sponsor terrorism and seek weapons of mass destruction. Saddam was toppled the next year following a U.S.-led invasion, but autocratic governments remain in place in the other two countries, and both have nuclear programs that alarm the West.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said late last month that recent events in Iran and North Korea support Bush's claim that they were part of an "axis of evil."
"It was a pretty good analysis, wasn't it?" Rice said when asked about the comment in an Oct. 24 radio interview. "It really was."
She said Iranians deserve a better leader, referring to the current hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. She also predicted the U.N. Security Council will approve sanctions against Iran over its disputed nuclear program "in the next few weeks."
Iran said recently that it would be willing to talk to the United States about Iraq and other regional issues if the U.S. requested it. But the White House has said it will only talk to Iran if Tehran agrees to suspend its suspect uranium enrichment activities. Iran has refused to do so, insisting its nuclear program is peaceful.
The U.S. and its European allies are negotiating with Russia and China over a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that would penalize Iran for its refusal to halt enrichment by an Aug. 31 deadline amid fears it is trying to develop atomic weapons. Russia and China have extensive trade with Iran and are opposed to harsh sanctions.
Iran has shrugged off threats of sanctions, insisting that the West eventually will have to agree to negotiate with it.
"In the nuclear case, a difficult encounter is ahead of us," Rafsanjani said during Friday prayers in Tehran. "It will be difficult for the U.S., too. The United States should not pin hope on its veto right in the U.N. Security Council. It is not an angel for them; it is only a temporary solution."
Rafsanjani also warned the U.S. not to consider military intervention in Iran, saying Washington's "iron fist policy" has failed.
"It will be dangerous if the U.S. thinks that it can behave toward Iran in the same way that it has treated Afghanistan and Iraq," he said. "Any nation should respect rights of other nations. Today, negotiations, prudence and wisdom are the solution for the problems in the entire world."
The former Iranian leader played down the effect on Iran of the U.S. midterm elections that gave Democrats control of Congress.
"Democrats are a little bit softer, but they are not angels. Do not interpret the win of either parties as very significant," he said.
During his speech Friday, Rafsanjani did not mention an Argentine judge's request for his arrest and the detention of eight other officials for the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires. The blast killed 85 people and wounded more than 200. Iran's charge d'affaires in Buenos Aires has said the judicial case was "fraught with irregularities" and politically motivated.
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