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No Sign Of U.S. Correcting Regional 'Mistakes,' Iran Says

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iran's top authority has said the new U.S. administration was showing no sign of trying to correct its predecessor's "big mistakes" in the region, including Afghanistan, Iranian media has reported.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made his comments at a meeting with visiting Turkish President Abdullah Gul, whose country recently said it was working to create "better understanding" between the United States and Iran.

Khamenei has final say on matters of state, including foreign relations.

U.S. President Barack Obama has offered to engage Iran in direct talks if the Islamic republic "unclenches its fist," in a major shift from the approach of George W. Bush.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said on March 8 -- after meeting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and shortly before leaving for Iran -- that Turkey was trying to bridge differences between the United States and Iran.

The United States has said it intended to invite Iran to an international meeting later this month to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, which is struggling with an Islamist insurgency.

Iran and the United States have not had diplomatic ties for 30 years and are now also at odds over Tehran's disputed nuclear work, which the West suspects has military aims.

Iran denies the charge and blames the presence of U.S. forces for instability in its neighbors Iraq and Afghanistan.

'Big Mistake'

"In the cases of Afghanistan and Iraq, the American government made a big mistake and the stance of the current American government on the issue of Gaza is one of America's other big mistakes," the official IRNA news agency quoted Khamenei as telling Gul on March 10.

"The American government is continuing the same previous path and there is no sign of efforts to make up for the mistakes," Khamenei said.

Iran's Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said on March 9 the United States was failing in Afghanistan and that a new approach was needed. Iran has often called for U.S. forces to leave the region, saying they were making the situation worse.

Mottaki did not say whether Iran would accept the U.S. invitation to the meeting. Iran's government spokesman has said it would consider such a request and that it was ready to help Afghanistan against a growing Taliban insurgency.

An Iranian analyst said he believed Iran would attend, as it "wants to be recognized as a key player in Afghanistan."

Despite the nuclear row, analysts say the two foes share an interest in ensuring a stable Afghanistan.

While Iran and the United States sat at the same table to discuss Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, the Bush administration made sure the new pro-Western Afghan government kept Tehran at arm's length.