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Washington and Tehran rhetoric heats up over Iran nuclear program

The rhetoric between US and Iranian leaders has taken a sharp negative turn over the Iran nuclear program. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Iran's government a "menace" while Supreme Leader Khamenei said the US is not to be trusted.

By Staff writer / March 22, 2010

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference (AIPAC) in Washington, Monday. Clinton said in her speech Iran’s leaders must know there are 'real consequences' for not resolving questions about its nuclear program.

Cliff Owen/AP

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Istanbul, Turkey

The United States and Iran are throwing more rhetorical brickbats, blaming each other at the start of the Persian New Year for failure to embrace engagement initiatives, and reviving language drawn from decades of mutual demonization.

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Washington is angry about Iran's rebuff of a nuclear deal offered last fall, its anti-Israel rhetoric, and constant Iranian accusations that the West was behind weeks of bloody unrest last summer.

Tehran is incensed by criticism of that lethal crackdown on opposition supporters since the country's contested election last June, and says the United States persists in working to undermine the regime.

“Elements in Iran’s government have become a menace, both to their own people and in the region,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday.
Iran’s leaders must know there are “real consequences” for not resolving questions about its nuclear program, and that it was “unacceptable” for Iran to have nuclear weapon, Mrs. Clinton said in a speech to AIPAC, an influential pro-Israel lobby group. “Our aim is not incremental sanctions, but sanctions that will bite.”

The reinforced rhetoric echoed the vituperation coming from Tehran, where leaders over the weekend rejected a Nowruz (New Year) statement from President Barack Obama — who took office last year vowing to try to break 30 years of mutual hostility and seek dialogue with the Islamic Republic. Mr. Obama said his “offer of comprehensive diplomatic contacts and dialogue [still] stands.”

Iran’s supreme religious leader Ayatollah Seyeed Ali Khamenei responded in a Sunday speech. “The new US administration," he stated, "said they are willing to normalize relations. But unfortunately in practice they did the opposite. We said that if they are extending a metal hand inside a velvet glove, we won’t accept.”

Too much to lose

“The reality today is that both sides don’t think they have much to lose by denouncing the other side,” says Ray Takeyh, an Iran specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. “[But] this reality is unsustainable. At some point, somebody’s situation will change, whether it’s theirs or ours.”

“On the US side, what happens if the sanctions regime doesn’t achieve Iranian compromises?” asks Mr. Takeyh, author of Guardians of the Revolution: Iran and the World in the Age of the Ayatollahs. “And on the Iranian side, what happens if sanctions and other factors affect their economic situation—how would they respond?”

Khamenei said the White House had been deceptive in its previous efforts. “You cannot speak about peace and friendship while plotting to hit Iran,” he said. “We will examine the issue with sharp vision to determine if it really is a friendship hand and a friendly intention or hostile one in a deceptive framework.”

In Iran, the past year has seen a diplomatic shift of priorities at home from the nuclear issue to the suppression of opposition protests that left scores dead and thousands arrested, as hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets to reject what they believed to be the fraudulent re-election victory of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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