A top Iranian cleric on Friday slammed U.S. president-elect Barack Obama's criticism of Hezbollah and defended the Islamic republic's support of the Lebanese Shiite group.
"We are announcing it frankly, that we will defend the Lebanese Hezbollah resistance and its brave leader Hassan Nasrallah with pride," the conservative cleric Ahmed Khatami told worshippers in Friday prayers broadcast on state radio
"They are not terrorists since they are defending their honor and independence," he said.
"If Obama wants to decrease hatred, he has to stop making worthless comments. Most probably the Zionists have put down a banana skin for him," Khatami said.
Shiite majority Iran is a staunch supporter of Hezbollah and maintains that it provides them with moral support and not arms as alleged by two of its arch-foes, Washington and Israel.
After the summer 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, Iran sent money and technical expertise for reconstruction and to compensate victims. Israel says the Shiite group is now three times stronger than during the war.
Khatami described President-elect Barack Obama as a novice who was adopting old U.S. tactics of "deception and fraud", underscoring Iran's skepticism about prospects for change in U.S. policy.
Some Iranian officials said Iran would "wait and see" before judging how Obama would act in office, but the president- elect's call for Iran to stop part of its disputed nuclear work has drawn an uncompromising line from Iran.
Tehran says it will not suspend uranium enrichment, which Washington says has military aims, insisting it wants technology to make fuel for power plants not material for warheads. It says nuclear weapons have no role in Iran's defense doctrine.
"He (Obama) recently opined that the development of nuclear arms in Iran would be unacceptable," said Khatami, who is a member of Iran's powerful oversight body, the Assembly of Experts.
"I want to say that these statements are made by a raw person, an upstart (in politics), who has just reached power and is travelling the world of thoughts and imagination. The policy of deception and fraud has been an instrument that has defamed all American presidents," he said.
The cleric also said Obama was following the past "carrot and stick" policy, a reference to an offer by world powers of trade, nuclear and other incentives in return for halting its nuclear work. But they warn of more sanctions if Tehran refuses.
Obama, who takes office on Jan. 20, said on Sunday he was ready to talk to Iran directly to give the Islamic Republic the "clear choice" to accept incentives or face tougher sanctions.
I want to say that these statements are made by a raw person, an upstart (in politics), who has just reached power and is travelling the world of thoughts and imagination. The policy of deception and fraud has been an instrument that has defamed all American presidents,
Iranian cleric Ahmed Khatami
In his sermon, Khatami also criticized the heads of some Islamic countries and "particularly those of the Arab states" for not doing enough to stop Palestinian suffering in Gaza.
Hundreds of Iranians demonstrated in Tehran on Friday to call for an end to Israel's blockade of Gaza, Iranian media showed.
"Behind the crime scene against Muslims, the hands of some Islamic states can be seen," Khatami said. He singled out Egypt, which borders Gaza, in his sermon.
Egypt and Iran do not have full diplomatic ties. Cairo complained to the head of the Iranian mission in Egypt this week after Iranians protested outside Egypt's interests section in Tehran. An Egyptian diplomat said demonstrators threw a petrol bomb at the mission's fence and chanted anti-Egypt slogans.