The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, spiritual leader of Iran, inveighed Wednesday against liberal influences in Iran's government and said he would hold to his philosophy of "no East, no West."
"As long as I am alive, I will not let the government fall to the liberals," Tehran Radio quoted Khomeini as saying. "I will not deviate from 'no East, no West principles.' "
Khomeini, who is believed to be at least 87 years old and in poor health, vowed that he "will cut off the influence of American and Soviet agents in all fields," according to the broadcast.
Khomeini's latest remarks were interpreted as a public repudiation of the so-called pragmatic leadership faction in Iran headed by Hashemi Rafsanjani, Speaker of the Parliament, and President Ali Khamenei.
In fact, Western diplomats who follow developments in the Persian Gulf region said it now appears that Islamic radicals in Iran may be using the controversy over a novel they call blasphemous to "hijack the revolution" in the same way the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran a decade ago was used to oust moderates from the Iranian leadership.
Khomeini has called on Iranians to be independent, but the government under Rafsanjani's leadership had recently opened channels to Western Europe, looking toward the massive reconstruction effort that will be needed to revive Iran's economy from the devastating effects of eight years of war with Iraq.
This opening appeared to have been slammed shut when Khomeini said last week that the Indian-born novelist Salman Rushdie should be killed. Rushdie's recently published novel, "The Satanic Verses," has been assailed as blasphemous by many Muslims and has touched off a violent reaction in the Islamic world.
On Monday, the 12 countries of the European Community announced that they were recalling their ambassadors from Iran to protest the death threat against Rushdie, now a British citizen. Sweden and Canada also recalled their envoys, and Britain announced that it was closing its embassy, which had been reopened only three months ago.
There were these other developments Wednesday:
-- American writers marched outside the Iranian Mission to the United Nations to protest Khomeini's call for Rushdie to be killed. Similar protests were carried out across the United States.
-- The Assn. of American Publishers, the American Booksellers Assn. and the American Library Assn. took out newspaper ads to announce that they will ensure that copies of "The Satanic Verses" remain available in stores and libraries.
-- West Germany, Iran's No. 1 trading partner, called on the U.N. Security Council to take up the matter of the Rushdie threat.
-- French President Francois Mitterrand delivered one of the toughest condemnations so far from a Western leader, denouncing the death threat as "absolute evil."
In his remarks, Khomeini said the Rushdie controversy had helped Iran to change what had been a "naive foreign policy."
"The world of arrogance and barbarism unveiled its true face of chronic enmity against Islam in the Rushdie affair," he was quoted as saying.
Western analysts said the controversy over the Rushdie book shows that a major struggle for power is taking place in Iran, with some Iranian officials at first suggesting that an apology from Rushdie would help settle the matter, but then, after Rushdie apologized, Khoomeini reasserting that nothing could save him from death.
President Khamenei, who made the suggestion that an apology from Rushdie would be adequate, indicated that the change of policy is inexorable.
Talking with reporters in Yugoslavia, where he is on an official visit, Khamenei said: "Rushdie's problem has no solution. An arrow has been fired toward its target and it is now traveling toward its aim."
Although Khamenei and Rafsanjani have now rushed to support the Ayatollah's position, some Western analysts think they are engaged in a form of damage control and that the outcome is obscured by the fast-moving developments in Tehran.
According to some Western diplomats, it seems clear that the Rushdie book is being used as a pretext to purge the government of liberals. They recalled that the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in 1979 forced the resignation of Khomeini's first prime minister, Mehdi Bazargan.
Of considerable long-term significance to Iran is the degree to which its continuing diplomatic isolation impedes reconstruction. Without Western help, Iran stands little chance of quickly restoring its oil production facilities to full potential.
Apart from the recent overtures to the West, Khomeini himself had written to Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev in what was seen as an effort to improve relations with Moscow, which had been denounced along with Washington as a "Great Satan."
No Improvement Seen
But Khomeini's remarks Wednesday indicated that there will be no improvement soon in Tehran's relations with the Soviet Union.
The ascendancy of radical elements in Tehran is likely to sound alarm bells among conservative Arab states on the Persian Gulf. These states had been encouraged by Iran's acceptance of a cease-fire with Iraq and by statements of moderate Iranians that Iran was determined to redress wrongs committed over the past decade.
The radical leaders in Tehran likely to benefit from the attacks on liberals are the same officials who earlier advocated using violent means, if necessary, to export the Islamic revolution to the countries of the Gulf region, which like Iran have large populations of Shiite Muslims.