By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Iran on Friday rejected a U.S. State Department report that accused Tehran of increasing its support for terrorism overseas to levels not seen for two decades, saying it is the United States that backs terrorists in the Middle East.
"Iran itself has been the victim of state-sponsored terrorism, which has claimed the lives of thousands of innocent Iranian people," said Alireza Miryousefi, spokesman for Iran's U.N. mission.
"Iran has been actively engaged in counterterrorism activities by all possible means and is a party to many counterterrorism international legal instruments," he said.
The State Department report on Thursday cited a series of actual and planned attacks in Europe and Asia linked to Hezbollah, Iran's Lebanon-based ally, including a July 2012 bombing in Bulgaria that killed five Israeli citizens and a Bulgarian, and wounded 32 others.
Last July, Iran's U.N. ambassador denied his country's involvement in the Bulgaria bombing, which he accused Israel of carrying out. "We have never, and will not, engage in such a despicable attempt on ... innocent people," Ambassador Mohammed Khazaee said.
"It should be mentioned that the U.S. government has no merit to label other nations of sponsoring terrorism as it has a long ... record (of) supporting terrorist groups in our region as well as Israeli state terrorism," Miryousefi said.
He cited the recent removal from the U.S. list of terrorist organizations of the Mujahadin-e-Khalq, a dissident group that calls for the overthrow of Iran's Shi'ite Muslim clerical leadership and fought alongside the forces of Iraq's late Sunni Muslim dictator Saddam Hussein in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
"The recent delisting of the MEK terrorist group ... and also allowing it to publicly lobby in Washington is a clear indication that the U.S. government has double standards in dealing with terrorism and uses designation of others as terrorist only to serve its illegitimate political interests," he said.
Announcing the MEK's removal from the list last September, the State Department said it "did not overlook or forget the MEK's past acts of terrorism..." It also said the department had "serious concerns about the MEK as an organization, particularly with regard to allegations of abuse committed against its own members."
U.S. and European officials and intelligence agencies say Iran and Hezbollah have stepped up their military backing for the besieged government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
(Editing by Peter Cooney and David Storey)