TEHRAN - The United States administration knows nothing about Islam or democracy, Iran's foreign ministry said Tuesday in a furious response to an attack by US Secretary of State Colin Powell on the Islamic republic's ruling clerics.
"The various comments made by the US officials on Islam and Muslims clearly prove they do not know Islam and Muslims, just as they do not know Iraq, the Middle East and democracy," spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told the state news agency IRNA.
On Monday, Powell delivered a surprisingly sharp attack on Iran's religious leadership, who he said were guilty of having "dragged the sacred garments of Islam into the political gutter".
"With these sort of comments they are disgracing themselves," Asefi responded, saying the Islamic republic "strongly condemns this open intervention in Iran's internal affairs."
"It is astonishing that the current US administration, which came into power through a tampered election, keeps on talking about democracy," the spokesman added in a jibe at the disputed presidential election that brought US President George W. Bush into office.
Less than a week ago, Bush called on Iran to embrace democracy, in comments that were also angrily condemned here in what has been a mounting rhetorical slanging match between the two old enemies.
Among other things, Iran has also been accused by Washington of harbouring fugitive members of the al-Qaeda terror network, undermining the Middle East peace process, hampering post-war security in Iraq and Afghanistan and using an atomic energy programme as a cover for a secret bid to develop nuclear weapons.
Diplomatic ties were suspended between Washington and Tehran after Islamist students stormed the US embassy in the Iranian capital on November 4, 1979, in the wake of the Islamic revolution, and held its staff hostage there for 444 days.
Habitual chants of "Death to America" are still heard in Iran, where hardliners still refer to the United States as the "Great Satan".