Iranian president: US demonizes Muslims as terrorists while they support 'terrorist' rebels in Syria
President Hassan Rouhani, pictured here in Tehran on April 3, 2015 had been due to hold talks in Rome on Saturday with Pope Francis as well as Italian counterpart Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi before travelling to the French capital (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)

The president of Shi'ite Muslim Iran criticized U.S. Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump on Wednesday for urging a ban on Muslims entering the United States "on the pretext of countering terrorism", suggesting the call was hypocritical.


Trump raised an outcry at home and abroad when, citing a deadly California shooting rampage last week by two Muslims who police said had been radicalized, he called for Muslims including would-be immigrants, students, tourists and other visitors to be barred from entering the country.

Rouhani, a pragmatist who has presided over a cautious thaw in relations between the Islamic Republic and the West that has encompassed a deal on Iran's nuclear program, took aim at Trump, without mentioning his name, during a cabinet meeting.

"Under the pretext of fighting terrorism, some people are proposing that Muslims should not be permitted to enter other countries. We regret such remarks about Muslims," he said in comments carried by Iranian state television.

"This is while they themselves are among the sponsors and supporters of terrorism ... and they are supporting terrorists.”

Iran and the United States are at odds over conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, where they often back opposing sides.

In Syria's civil war, President Bashar al-Assad's strongest regional ally is Iran and they label all rebels fighting him as "terrorists". Washington backs the anti-Assad opposition.

Trump currently is the U.S. Republican party's front-runner for the November 2016 presidential election, with 35 percent of support in a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll.

President Barack Obama's Democratic administration has challenged Republicans to withdraw support from Trump, and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said his comments could undermine U.S. security.

France, Britain, Canada, the United Nations and Muslims in Asian countries and nearly all of Trump's Republican rivals have also denounced his comments as out of keeping with American democratic values.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)