POWELL’S SOFT DECLARATION WELCOMED BY IRANIAN HARD LINERS

TEHRAN, 4 July. (IPS) Secretary of State Colin Powell’s backing away from intervention in Iranian politics on Wednesday has baffled Iranian reformists, fearing his conciliatory statement might encourage ruling conservatives increasing pressures against them, Iranian analysts said.

Powell told the Washington radio station WMAL: "The best thing we can do right now is not get in the middle of this family fight too deeply", referring to the ongoing confrontations between the "classical" reformists and the hard liners led respectively by President Mohammad Khatami and Ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i, the leader of the Islamic Republic.

His statement contrasted sharply with President George W. Bush’s open support for Iranian students-led protest movement of the last two weeks calling for more freedom and denouncing both Ayatollah Khameneh'i and Hojjatoleslam Khatami, criticised for his continuous "slide" towards hard liners.

President Bush says Iran is part of an "axis of evil" and administration officials have said Washington reserves the right to use military force against Iran's nuclear programs.

Powell’s remark also echoed a controversial comment by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who told "The Los Angeles Times" that Iran was different "because it was a democracy".

"Ruling hard liners welcomed Powell’s interview, interpreting it at meaning the danger of a possible American military intervention in Iran was over", one Iranian analyst told Iran Press Service on condition of anonymity.

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Kamal Kharrazi reacted positively to the Thursday's remarks of US Secretary of State Colin Powell regarding Iran, saying that there could be seen signs of accepting reality in Mr. Powell's statements.

"Of course, the stances adopted by the Americans are not stable and its reason is that they do not have precise knowledge about the Iranian society and are easily influenced by this or that", the Minister said, quoted by the official news agency IRNA.

He said an example of this American behaviour could be witnessed in their hasty support for the recent unrest in Iran, "something they have now realised how unimportant it was", Mr. Kharrazi said, referring to the recent Iranian students-popular demonstrations against the Islamic Republic.

Iranian authorities have tagged the students as "trouble-makers and thugs" acting on orders from Washington and the US-based Iranian mass medias.

"In order to have a fair assessment of US approach towards events in Iran, one has to see whether such attitude would be lasting or not and whether it would lead to any change of approach towards Iran", he stressed.

The internet site "Baaztaab" (Reflexion), close to Mr. Mohsen Reza’i, the Secretary of the influential Assembly for Discerning the Interests of the State (ADIS, or the Expediency Council), said Powell’s statement reflected America’s "backing away from its previous tough policy on the Islamic Republic".

A close aid to Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the ADIS’s powerful Chairman and the regime’s number two man, Mr. Reza’i met recently in Athena with some American scholars, discussing with them the future of Iran-US relations, cut in 1979 after Iranian revolutionary students stormed the American embassy in Tehran, taking as hostages 55 American diplomats and staff.

"That the reformists refrained from any observation on Powell’s statement show their bewilderedness", the analyst said, observing that the reformist internet site "Emrooz" had reported the interview without any comment.

"The reformists are afraid that the conciliatory remarks by Mr. Powell would serve the conservatives in increasing their crackdown on the freedom seekers Iranians, including students and dissidents", he added.

In his radio interview, Mr. Powell also reminded listeners that the Iranian people in free elections elected Mr. Khatami. "Remember that the president of Iran is freely elected. President Khatami was elected by his people, not in an American kind of election but an election that essentially tapped into the desires of the people", he added, suggesting that the Iranian rulers might make concessions to the protest movement.

"I think it's best for us to see if this movement that is under way with people marching and expressing their views is enough to put pressure on the political part of the Iranian government, President Khatami, and then the religious part under (Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali) Khameneh’i to see whether this causes them to realise that they are going down a loser trail", Powell told the radio station. ENDS US IRAN 4703