Iran Denies Policy Shift on Mideast
TEHRAN (Reuters - 16 October) - Iran denied Wednesday that it had shifted its policy toward acceptance of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told the official news agency IRNA that Iran still believed in a ``one-state solution in the Palestinian land and does not recognize the Zionist regime.''
``The only solution to the Palestine crisis is the formation of a Palestinian state in that land,'' state radio quoted him as saying.
Asefi told Reuters Tuesday that Iran advocated a single Palestinian state, but would ``not hamper'' a two-state solution if that was what Israelis and Palestinians wanted.
That apparent softening of Iran's stance drew fire from the militant Palestinian Islamist group Hamas Wednesday.
``This position contradicts the Islamic program which does not recognize any rights for the Jews to own an inch of Palestinian soil,'' senior Hamas political official Mahmoud al-Zahar told Reuters in the Gaza Strip.
Iran has never recognized Israel's right to exist. Since the 1979 Islamic revolution it has called for the destruction of the Jewish state.
Iran bitterly criticized the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1988 when it declared a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that would co-exist with Israel within its 1948 borders.
Israel still occupies much of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where Palestinians have been waging a two-year-old uprising.
The Palestinian Authority, led by President Yasser Arafat, remains committed to a peace based on two states living side by side, a vision rejected by Hamas and other Islamist organizations.
``I'm afraid Iran is taking some steps which are not acceptable in Islamic terms,'' said Zahar, speaking before Iran's denial that its policy had changed.
``They (the Iranians) have no ability to hinder anything. But we as Palestinians, as Islamists, we do not accept the two-state solution. Even if two states were established, our goal and our dream will remain alive in one great Islamic state in Palestine.
Britain gave a cautious and qualified welcome to Asefi's remarks.
``If the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman is saying they would not reject a two state solution, if it is acceptable to the Palestinians, we would welcome that,'' a Foreign Office spokesman said.
``We would continue to urge the Iranians actively to support such a solution and to cease any support to those opposing the peace process,'' he said.
President Bush this year lumped Iran, along with Iraq and North Korea, into an ``axis of evil'' which he accused of seeking weapons of mass destruction and backing terrorism.
Iran has long denied that it sponsors terrorism. Asefi said his country provided only moral support for Palestinian groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and Lebanon's Hizbollah guerrillas.