Iran calls on Muslims to boycott "peace conference"

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TEHRAN, Oct 13 (Reuters) Iran's top cleric urged Muslim countries today to boycott a US-sponsored international peace conference on Palestinian statehood next month.

Opposition to Israel is one of the cornerstones of belief of Shi'ite Iran, which backs Palestinian and Lebanese Islamic militant groups opposed to peace with the Jewish state.

''When Palestinians consider this conference as deceitful and refuse to participate, how can Muslim countries take part in that?'' Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a sermon broadcast live on state media.

''Other (Muslim) countries also should consider it a deceitful conference.'' The United States is optimistic Palestinians and Israelis will agree to a joint document on the tough issues that divide them before the conference in November.

Washington has backed the idea of a small territorial exchange between Israel and a future Palestine so that Palestinians would be compensated for Jewish settlement blocs that would remain under Israeli control in any peace deal.

Negotiations on core issues such as the borders of a Palestinian state and the future of Jerusalem and millions of Palestinian refugees broke down in 2001 amid surging violence.

Since its 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran refuses to recognise Israel.

''Under the name of seizing peace, Americans are trying to impose their will on Palestinians. This conference's aim is to rescue the Zionist regime (Israel),'' Khamenei said. .

Iran's most powerful authority also said the United States and its western allies were to be blamed for instability and the bloodshed in Iraq.

''The occupiers of Iraq are the ones to be blamed for the insecurity in Iraq. They are not capable or they do not want to establish security in Iraq,'' he said.

The United States and Israel accuse Iran of ''interference'' in Iraq, through backing Shi'ite militias, and of sponsoring terrorism, including the Palestinian group Hamas and Hezbollah. Tehran denies the charges.

The United States and Iran, who have not had diplomatic ties since shortly after Iran's revolution, are also embroiled in a deepening rift over Tehran's nuclear programme, which the West says is a cover to build nuclear weapons. Iran denies it.

Khamenei, the spiritual heir of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who led Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, addressed tens of thousands of worshippers who gathered at a large mosque in Tehran to mark the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday ending the Ramadan fasting month in Iran.

''America and its allies are responsible for ... human and political catastrophe in Iraq,'' he said.

REUTERS SKB AS1249

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