Powell slams Iran religious leaders
From correspondents in New York
November 11, 2003
US Secretary of State Colin Powell has delivered a surprisingly sharp attack on Iran's conservative religious leadership, bluntly accusing them of sullying Islam for political means.
In a speech to the City College of New York focused on US efforts to promote democracy in the Arab and Muslim world, Powell said the "hidebound" mullahs would not be able to deny the Iranian people their desire for reform.
"The Iranian people want their freedom back, of this there can be no doubt," he said at a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of US statesman and diplomat Ralph Bunche.
"They do not want to banish Islam from their lives, far from it," Powell said.
"They want to be free from those who have dragged the sacred garments of Islam into the political gutter.
"They have been imprisoned for wanting this, they have been gagged for wanting this, they have been intimidated and threatened for wanting this, some have already died for wanting this," he said.
Powell noted that despite crackdowns on pro-reform students and media, tens of thousands of Iranians, many of them women, had turned out to greet Iranian Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi when she returned home last month.
"The hidebound clerics of Iran know what it means too," he said.
"Should they be worried? Does morning follow night? They should be."
Powell did not elaborate on the comments which came about midway through his lengthy address in which he defended President George W Bush's policies in Iraq and Afghanistan and expanded on the President's call for democratic reform in the Middle East.
However, the remarks come at a critical time for Iran, which Bush branded a charter member of the so-called "axis of evil" two years ago along with North Korea and Saddam Hussein's Iraq and is now facing US-led efforts to stem its nuclear programs.
Washington accuses Tehran of using its nuclear energy program to develop atomic weapons in secret, a charge Iran vehemently denies.
Under heavy US pressure, the UN's nuclear watchdog called for Iran to meet an October 31 deadline to come clean on its program.
Earlier today, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that it had so far found no evidence that Iran was trying to develop nuclear weapons but could not say Tehran's atomic program was exclusively peaceful.
The report also details a series of breaches by Iran of international nuclear monitoring agreements.
The report said Iran had "concealed many aspects of its nuclear activities with resulting breaches of its obligation to comply with the provision of the safeguards agreement" of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The IAEA was still investigating the possibility that Iran was hiding an atomic weapons program, said the report, which is to be submitted to a meeting next week of the agency's 35-nation board of governors, which could declare Iran in non-compliance with the NPT.
This could lead to possible UN sanctions against Iran.
Agence France-Presse http://www.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,4057,7835476%255E1702,00.html
Very surprising attack from Powell.