TEHRAN, 7 Feb. (IPS) Islamic Republic’s number two man says the presence of American presence in the Middle East is "worse than possession of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq".

Speaking at the traditional Friday prayers, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the Head of the powerful Assembly for Discerning the Interests of the States (ADIS) reiterated Iran’s "firm agreement" to disarmament to Iraq, but stopped short to oppose American attack on Baghdad, as stated by the government of President Mohammad Khatami.

Iranian political analysts observes that that the Islamic Republic does not have a clear cut policy on Iraq, Iran’s long-standing foe, as, in the one hand, the people is staunchly supportive of any action aimed at toppling Saddam Hoseyn and on the other, the leader of the regime, ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i, opposes any military action against Iraq.

"The Islamic Republic is firmly against the presence of America in the Middle East, but supports as firmly disarming the Iraqi government, for, we think the (ruling Iraqi) Ba’th Party should not possess chemical or long-range weapons, because they have proven that they would make use of such arms", he told worshippers.

The former Iranian president said the United Nations, by passing proper resolutions, can get these weapons out of the hands of the Iraqis, "but, he added, this is not what the Americans have in mind, for, we know well that if they control Baghdad, they would use the same warfare against Iraq’s neighbours".

Iran has said repeatedly that it opposes a unilateral U.S. strike on Iraq, the western neighbour with which it fought a gruelling eight-year war in the 1980s, but that it would not oppose an attack authorised by the United Nations.

''We oppose such weapons being in the hands of Iraq, but we know that if they are not dealt with appropriately, it will backfire. The U.N. should act with the approval of the Security Council and use international means to rid Saddam of such weapons", Mr Hashemi Rafsanjani said, describing the ongoing Iraqi crisis as an "international conflict.

Tehran would welcome the downfall of the Iraqi dictator who attacked Iran in 1980, but the ruling conservative clerics fear that once Saddam Hoseyn deposed and replaced by an American-installed government, then Washington would turn its attention to Iran, which, with Iraq and North Korea, has been designated by president George W. Bush as a "rogue and evil state".

Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani also blasted the U.S. "arrogance" and "hegemony", said (Collin) Powell’s speech at the United Nations Security Council shows America is serious in its military policy for the Middle East, from where it imports 25 per cent of its energy need.

Quoting the US minority Senate leader Tom Dashle describing President George W. Bush as "the world’s less irresponsible and most dangerous person", the ADIS Chairman said: Mr. Dashell is right, for, every morning Mr. Bush comes out of the bed, he menaces the world with his armed forces".

"Practically speaking this is so. Why is it that a president should make a speech every morning when he wakes up or every night when he wants to go to bed to frighten the people of the world?'', Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani asked, adding that the American President has even threatened Iraqis with nuclear attack. RAFSANJANI ON IRAQ 7201