Arab press lashes at Bush comments; Iraq calls them `stupid,' his administration `evil'

Thursday, January 31st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ President Bush's denunciation of Iran and Iraq as part of an ``axis of evil'' brought widespread criticism Thursday in the Mideast, where this week's State of Union raised concerns that the U.S.-led war would be spreading.

Iraq's official Al-Iraq newspaper called the United States ``the sole evil on earth,'' and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said it was an honor to be targeted by ``the most hated Satan in the world.''

Iran's foreign minister canceled a trip to New York for an international economic forum in protest of Bush's remarks, according to Iranian television.

In his State of the Union address Tuesday, Bush said Iran, Iraq and North Korea pose a growing threat because of their support for terrorism and their efforts to build or acquire weapons of mass destruction.

Pyongyang did not immediately respond. But South Korea and Japan, its uneasy neighbors, were nervous over Bush's speech, saying it hiked up tensions.

``It cast an ominous dark cloud over Northeast Asia, the Korean peace process in particular,'' said Baek Hak-soon, a security expert in Seoul's independent Sejong Institute.

To observers in Seoul, Bush's speech reaffirmed what they saw as a widening gap between the United States and its ally South Korea over how to deal with North Korea, a totalitarian regime that U.S. officials say is armed with long-range missiles and up to 5,000 tons of biochemical weapons _ and possibly a few crude nuclear devices.

``I had an impression that Bush has become over-confident after receiving so much international support for the U.S. war against terror,'' said Hiroshi Kimura, political science professor at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies. ``It may not be so wise for Japan to go too far in following the United States.''

Some prominent newspapers in Europe also disparaged the president's comments Thursday.

The Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet said in an editorial that Bush's speech suggested a ``go-it-alone approach in a world where the superpower's superior military power can be used anywhere and against anyone.'' The policy, it said, ``will be a serious setback for a civilized and peaceful world community.''

An editorial in Finland's largest daily, Helsingin Sanomat, questioned Bush's linkage of Iran, Iraq and North Korea, pointing out that none of the three are allies.

``North Korea is an impoverished relic of communism, Iran is an Islamic Shiite clerical state, and Iraq is a nonreligious dictatorship,'' it said.

Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan on Wednesday called Bush's speech ``stupid'' and said the U.S. administration was ``the source of evil and aggression toward the whole world.''

The United States has warned Iraq to let in U.N. weapons inspectors, who left in 1998, or face unspecified consequences _ a demand Baghdad has so far refused.

Under U.N. resolutions, sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 can be lifted only after the United Nations is satisfied Baghdad has dismantled its weapons of mass destruction. Iraq says it has done so.

Writing in the leading Lebanese An-Nahar newspaper, Gibran Tueni said Bush's comments show that ``the Afghanistan file is about to be closed and the file of fighting terrorism in the Arab world is about to be wide opened.''

In Syria, the state-run Syria Times said, ``It is hard to understand why the United States prefers to hide the evil face of Israel.''

Across the Mideast and the Muslim world, Washington's perceived bias toward Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been cited as fueling Arab and Muslim anger that leads to anti-U.S. violence.

Bush in his speech singled out as terrorist Hamas and Hezbollah, militant groups many Arabs see as champions of nationalist Palestinian and Lebanese causes.

Iran is a longtime backer of Hezbollah, which fought Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon for years and still strikes Israeli targets in a disputed border area. Hezbollah is widely believed to be linked to 1980s suicide bombings in Lebanon that killed more than 260 Americans.

Iran has condemned the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States and long had opposed Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers. Early in the U.S. war, American officials spoke of better cooperation with Iran. But in the past month, Washington has accused Iran of undermining Afghanistan's new government and been angered by alleged Iranian involvement in an attempt to smuggle weapons to the Palestinians.