R E G I O N: Iran rules out prospect of meeting Powell
* Says meeting Powell at Iraq conference would be pointless
* Will call for withdrawal of American troops from Iraq
TEHRAN: Iran on Sunday ruled out the prospect of any meeting with US Secretary of State Colin Powell on the sidelines of an international conference on Iraq, saying direct talks would be pointless as he is about to step down from his post.
The foreign ministry also said Iran would be attending the two-day conference, which opens at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, to call for a withdrawal of US troops from its neighbour and issue a protest against US actions there.
“Powell had four years to change the attitude of the United States towards Iran but he didn’t. Now he is not in charge anymore, and it would not be very useful to meet him,” ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters.
But Asefi said Iran would “take part in the Sharm el-Sheikh conference with force” and “protest against the methods of the United States, insist on the necessity of withdrawing American troops from Iraq and the organisation of elections on schedule.”
Powell announced his resignation as the top US diplomat last week. US President George W Bush has announced his choice to replace Powell, national security advisor Condoleezza Rice, whose confirmation must be approved by the US Senate. The Iraq conference will gather some 20 foreign ministers and four international organisations, and has been in the pipeline ever since Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi called for an international forum during a Cairo visit in July.
Iran is due to send Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi.
The United States is hoping the meeting will rally international support for efforts to restore order in violence-wracked Iraq and hold elections there in January.
Last week Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said his country was ready to help the Americans get out of a “quagmire” in Iraq, but also ruled out the immediate prospect of direct talks with Washington. “We are ready to help them save themselves so the Iraqi people are saved,” Khatami said on Wednesday, adding, “No direct negotiations with the Americans are on the agenda”.
Washington and Tehran cut of diplomatic relations shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution and in 2002 Bush lumped Iran into an “axis of evil”. Tehran continues to be accused by Washington of supporting terrorism, aiding Iraqi insurgents and seeking nuclear weapons. On Thursday, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei launched a vitriolic attack on Washington, blasting what he said were crimes committed by “infidels” in the shattered Iraq city of Fallujah.
“The massacre of civilians, women and children by the thousands, the execution of wounded, the destruction of homes, mosques and other places of prayer makes every Muslim restless,” Khamenei said in a statement. Muslim governments “must protest against the crimes committed by the infidel oppressors,” said Iran’s all-powerful leader, while criticising “Arab and Islamic governments who stand by and watch while we hear appeals for help from the Iraqi people.” afp