PARIS, 8 Feb. (IPS) A prominent Iranian political analyst dismissed the importance of news published by an American newspaper about a "rare private" meeting between American officials with unidentified Iranian envoys, observing that such meetings does not mean a change in the Bush Administrations towards the Islamic Republic.

According to "The Washington Post", officials from the US Administration met Iranian counterparts somewhere in Europe last month to seek a promise of humanitarian help and an assurance that Iran would not interfere in military operations if the United States goes to war against Iraq.

"U.S. diplomats carrying a carefully designed message also asked Iran to join search-and-rescue missions for downed U.S. air crews and deny haven to fleeing Iraqis who might try to cross into Iran and regroup against a U.S.-supported government in Baghdad", the paper said, adding that thought Tehran continue to oppose American military action against Iraq, yet the report by US officials considers as "encouraging signals from Tehran".

During the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan on Iran's northern border, Iran offered to conduct search-and-rescue missions for American pilots landing in emergency in Iranian territory.

Both Iranian opposition and official quarters immediately translated the story as meaning a shift in the American policy towards the Islamic Republic, a regime President George W. Bush described as an "evil state".

Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, the official spokesman for the embattled government of President Mohammad Khatami denied Saturday the Postís report, saying "no meeting, at any level, ever took place between Iranian officials with American anywhere".

But Mr. Darioosh Homayoon, a former veteran Iranian journalist and minister said such meetings are part of American war preparations aimed at fostering the anti-Iraq front, "meetings that Washington also carry out with countries as far as Japan, China and Australia".

"Not only the ruling conservatives keep the Khatami Administration out of such highly sensitive issues as meetings with the Americans, but also their vehement diatribes against the United States are out of their "frenetic fear" from being the next American target.

He was referring to both a speech pronounced on Friday by the Islamic Republicís number tow man, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, saying American presence in the Persian Gulf was "worse than Saddam Hoseyn possessing weapons of mass destructions" and the fact that Iranian foreign policy is decided by the staunchly anti-American leader of the regime, Ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i, who is basically opposed to American military intervention in Iraq.

"The Islamic Republic has no other choice but to bow to American demands. But this does not mean the Bush Administration is also changing its attitude towards Tehran, as it has never lost any occasion to highlight Iranís support for international terrorism or its efforts at achieving mass destruction capability", he said during an interview with the Persian service of "Radio France International".

"The embattled Iranian rulers are facing two daring challenges. If they persist in their opposing to the United States (preparation of war against Iraq), they would be toppled in a way worse than Saddam and if they compromise now, the Americans would deal with them once they get rid of the Iraqi dictator", he pointed out, adding that "anyhow", the US Administration was "determined" in fighting "rogue states" in the Middle East as anywhere else in the world. ENDS US IRAN SECRET MEETINGS 8203