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President Hashemi Rafsanjani said Friday that Iran should be thankful for foreign aid for earthquake victims, defending the help against hard-liners who oppose it.

Rafsanjani, speaking at weekly prayers at Tehran University, cited an editorial in a radical newspaper last week that denounced assistance from countries like the United States and said people chanted "Death to America" even from under the rubble."I don't think we see the people who are under the debris saying, `No we don't want foreign aid,' " the president said. "The response and activities of the foreigners were really good and acceptable."

The anti-Western faction in the Iranian government, led by lawmaker Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, opposes any form of foreign assistance to the Islamic Republic in the wake of last Thursday's devastating earthquake.

Rafsanjani has sought to open Iran to more foreign investment as a means of gaining technology to rebuild the sagging economy.

He made no link Friday between Western aid and any possible release of U.S. and other Western hostages held by pro-Iranian groups in Lebanon. But Iran has said Western gestures of good will could prompt Iran to further help obtain the hostages' freedom.

The United States broke diplomatic relations with Iran after Islamic radicals seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in November 1979 and held 52 hostages for 444 days.

Recent emergency aid from Western countries, including the United States, for the hundreds of thousands of victims of the earthquake has raised speculation about a possible thawing of relations.

"The assistance has an effect, nobody can say it doesn't," said an Iranian diplomatic official. But he added that the U.S. government has missed an opportunity because of the small size of its donation.

"The $295,000 the United States is giving is like a joke," he said. "It's the amount of one house in California."