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Obama Taking 'Wrong' Path Over Israel, Says Iran

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iran's top authority has said U.S. President Barack Obama was pursuing the same "wrong path" as George W. Bush in supporting Israel and described the Jewish state as a "cancerous tumor".

The comments by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on policy in the Islamic republic, are likely to disappoint the new U.S. administration, which wants to engage in Iran, but has called on Tehran to "unclench its fist".

"Even the new president of America, who has come to power with slogans about changing Bush's policies, is defending state terrorism by talking about unconditional commitment to Israel's security," Khamenei said.

Khamenei, speaking at a conference on the Palestinian issue in Tehran, said Obama was following the same "wrong path" of his predecessor in the White House.

The United States have long called on Iran to end its opposition to peace-making in the Middle East and to stop supporting organizations like Lebanon's Hizballah and the Palestinian Hamas group that Washington considers terrorist.

Iran says these groups are fighting an illegal occupation on Palestinian land and does not recognize Israel's right to exist.

One Iranian analyst said Khamenei might be restating Iran's tough line to make clear Tehran would not easily give up regional policies that could be bargaining chips in any talks.

"He is saying you also have to change, if you want us to change," said the analyst, who asked not to be named. "Iran cannot afford letting go of its regional policies. It cannot happen that easily."

Breaking with Bush, Obama's administration has talked of engaging with Iran on a range of issues including its disputed nuclear ambitions. But a senior U.S. official said on March 2 that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was doubtful Iran would respond to any offers of engagement when they are made.

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said last month Iran would agree to talks if they were based on mutual respect but has also previously listed conditions for any opening, such as saying Washington must withdraw troops from around the world.

Ultimately, any decision will depend on Khamenei, who has so far not directly addressed the issue of Obama's overtures but has in the past said U.S. governments could not be trusted.

Standing Firm

"Another big mistake is to say that the only way to save the Palestinian nation is by negotiations," Khamenei said.

"Negotiations with whom? With an occupying and bullying regime, who does not believe in any other principle other than force? ...Or negotiations with America and Britain who committed the biggest sin in creating and supporting this cancerous tumor...?" he added.

"The way to salvation [for Palestinians] is standing firm and resisting," the supreme leader said.

Khamenei also said the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews died at the hands of the Nazis, was used to "usurp" Palestinian land and continued that the West and Israel showed the weakness of their cause by not allowing anyone to question the Holocaust.

Ahmadinejad, who previously caused Western ire by saying the Holocaust was a "myth," said, "The story of the Holocaust, a nation without a homeland, and a homeland without a nation...are the big lies of our era."

"The continuation of the Zionist regime even on one inch of the land of Palestine, because of the nature of that regime, means the continuation of crime, occupation, threat and insult to the nations," the president told the conference.

He repeated a call for a referendum among Palestinian Muslims, Jews, and Christians around the world to determine what government to establish on all land that now includes Israel.