(photo credit: Associated Press)
Iran's supreme leader sharply denounced the United States on Sunday, accusing it of plotting to overthrow its clerical leadership, in a chilly response to an overture by President Barack Obama for better cultural ties with Iran.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei did not outright reject Obama's offer, saying Iran would keep an eye on Washington's intentions. But the supreme leader said that so far, Washington's offers of engagement with Teheran have been a deception.
The exchange was a sign of how Obama's hopes for dialogue with Iran have broken down amid Teheran's rejection of Western demands over its nuclear program and its heavy crackdown on the opposition following disputed presidential elections last June.
In his message, released Friday night to coincide with the Iranian new year, Nowruz, Obama told the Iranian people that the Americans want better cultural exchanges with Iran — but he also criticized the Iranian leadership for "turning its back" on US overtures.
Khamenei, who has the final say on all political matters in Iran, lashed back in a nationally televised address in an annual provincial visit to his hometown, Mashhad, telling the Americans, "You cannot speak about peace and friendship while plotting to hit Iran."
In particular, he denounced US criticism of the postelection crackdown. Iran has arrested thousands in the wake of widespread protests that erupted against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's victory in the June vote, which the opposition says was fraudulent.
Referring to Obama's message, Khamenei said, "We will examine the issue with sharp vision to determine if it really is a friendship hand and a friendly intention or hostile one in a deceptive framework."
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He said that in response to past overtures, "we said that if they are extending a metal hand inside a velvet glove, we won't accept. Unfortunately, what we had guessed took place."
US support for the opposition proved that Obama's claims to seek dialogue were a deception, he said. "The new US administration ... said they are willing to normalize relations. But unfortunately in practice they did they opposite," Khamenei told a large crowd in the northeastern city of Mashhad, who several times broke into chants of "death to America" and "death to Obama."
"The US president called those street fighters civil rights activitists," Khamenei said, referring to the protesters. "You talk of human rights and democracy ... then you take the side of a bunch of rioters and call this a civil rights movement. Aren't you ashamed of yourself?"
In his message, Obama said said the US offer of diplomatic dialogue
still stands, but that the Iranian government has chosen isolation.
White House released the video late Friday, timing it, as it did last
year, to coincide with Nowruz, a 12-day holiday celebrating the arrival
of spring and the beginning of the new year on the Persian calendar.
United States, which has not had formal diplomatic relations with Iran
since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, has begun a new push for the United
Nations to impose sanctions on Teheran for its refusal to rein in
uranium enrichment. Washington and its allies fear Iran plans to use
the process to build a nuclear bomb, an accusation denied by Iran,
which says its program is intended only to generate electricity.
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