Iran hits back over 'evil axis' charge

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The Independent Online

If it ever existed, the post-11 September diplomatic flirtation between Iran and the United States is over, and with it any hope that the attack on America might have ended 23 years of enmity.

As recently as two months ago, the two countries were working on the interim government for Afghanistan, and conducting less visible meetings on a new relationship. Today they are trading insults.

Less than 24 hours after Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defence, accused Iran of helping al-Qa'ida and Taliban fighters escape, Tehran said the US charges were based on "hallucinations not evidence". Mohammad-Ali Abtahi, a Vice- President and a member of the reformist faction, replied to President George Bush's claim that Iran belonged to an "axis of evil" by declaring that the US wanted to dominate the world, and was using threats to do so.

The events have left no doubt that any brief rapprochement was built primarily on a common dislike of the Taliban, and the ancient principle that "my enemy's enemy is my friend".

Some State Department officials now fear that Mr Bush's attack has made it hard for moderates to dispute what the hardline clerical rulers have always said – that the US has no intention of becoming a friend.