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Volume 3,  Number 17              June 1 - 7, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines

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White House Keeps Pressure on Iran

By The Associated Press and Reuters

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U.S. rejects Iran’s claims it isn’t harboring senior al-Qaida leaders

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration on Tuesday rejected Iran’s claims that it was not harboring senior al-Qaida leaders. A senior-level meeting on Iran policy set for Tuesday was put on hold, but White House spokesman Ari Fleischer kept the heat on, saying Iran had responded to U.S. concerns “insufficiently.”

Fleischer also said the arrests of several suspected al-Qaida members announced by Iran on Monday did not quell concerns.

Al-Qaida, led by Osama bin Laden, has been blamed by the United States for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington.

U.S. officials said they had intelligence suggesting senior al-Qaida members were hiding in Iran and had advance knowledge of the suicide bombings May 12 in Saudi Arabia in which 34 people, including eight Americans, were killed.

Fleischer also scoffed at Tehran's assertions that its nuclear program was exclusively designed for peaceful power-generating purposes. "We continue to have concerns that a nation that is awash in gas and oil would seek to produce peaceful nuclear energy," he said.

Fleischer alleged that Iran "flares off" -- that is, burns as a waste product -- more natural gas than the electrical energy it would produce from nuclear reactors.

Meeting Likely Tuesday

Fleischer said a meeting of senior officials to consider new ways to pressure Iran, which had reportedly been scheduled for Tuesday, would not happen.

A source familiar with the policy debate said there would be a higher-level "principles" meeting on the issue Thursday at which top administration officials would consider ways to step up pressure on Iran. Another source confirmed there was a meeting Thursday but was not sure at what level.

"What we will be doing is looking at what our options are to try to get the Iranians to cooperate on al-Qaida in ways that they have in the past. If there's an indication that we can't expect that kind of cooperation again, then we'll be looking at other options," a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.

The Washington Post reported Sundaythat the United States had broken off contact with Iran after intelligence reports suggesting that al-Qaida operatives in Iran had a role in the May 12 bombings.

The Post reported that Pentagon officials were pushing for the Bush administration to adopt a more aggressive policy to destabilize the Iranian government.

Iran Denies Al-Qaeda Ties

The United States has specifically accused Iran of harboring al-Qaida's security chief, Saif al-Adil; bin Laden's son, Saad; and Abu Musab Zarqawi, the operational commander whom Washington accuses of ties to ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Iran, for its part, has said that it has arrested and deported 500 al-Qaida members over the last year as they fled Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq but that none are senior leaders, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has charged.

"Iran is serious about confronting al-Qaida," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said Monday, calling on Washington to "follow logic and wisdom in international relations and avoid making interfering remarks."

Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi called al-Qaida "a very dangerous organization" and said his country was serious about combating it.

"There is no way that Iranians would support al-Qaida because we have been fighting with al-Qaida since before even the Americans were engaged with them," he said.
Iran has also stressed that its Shiite branch of Islam was at odds with the Sunni Islam advocated by bin Laden and al-Qaida.

Nuclear Cards

Iran, which is on President Bush's "axis of evil" list, has come under increasing pressure from Washington since the end of the war in Iraq.

In recent weeks U.S. officials have accused Iran of meddling in postwar Iraq, developing nuclear weapons, sheltering al-Qaida members and sponsoring terrorism. Iran denies all the U.S. allegations.

Hassan Rohani, secretary general of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said Iran "would like to reduce the existing tensions," between Tehran and Washington.

"If America shows goodwill, one could expect better prospects in the future relations of the two countries," Rohani said Sunday in the newspaper Jomhuri-ye Eslami. Rohani added that Iran was "ready to open its nuclear program to full international supervision."
The nuclear issue has been complicated by Moscow's determination to continue helping Iran build its first nuclear plant.

"Russia does not see any reason now to review its stance and its role regarding construction of the first nuclear reactor," Alexander Rumyantsev, Russia's atomic energy minister, said after talks with visiting Iranian nuclear officials Monday.

Diplomatic pressure on Iran is likely to intensify on June 16 if, as Washington hopes, the International Atomic Energy Agency declares Iran in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Iran insists that its network of nuclear facilities, which includes a uranium enrichment plant, are solely geared to electric generation. But U.S. officials and independent analysts say Iran's atomic program could allow it to "break out" of the NPT when it is ready to build nuclear weapons.

Lawmakers Weigh In

Washington broke ties with Tehran shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Officials from the two countries have met several times recently in Geneva to discuss issues related to Afghanistan and Iraq.

The notion of how to deal with Iran has also become a hot topic in Congress.

Sen. Joseph Biden, the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told NBC's "Today" show Tuesday that the White House should first finish its military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan before it even considers regime change in Iran.
"We've got a long way to go there," Biden said of Iraq. "I don't think we should be biting off more than we can chew right now."

On Sunday, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., suggested on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Americans might expect "better cooperation from Iran once the strong signal has gone out" that the United States will not accept weapons of mass destruction there.

And Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., a Democratic presidential hopeful who strongly backed the Iraq war, said that while "regime change" is the answer in Iran, he was not suggesting U.S. military action.

May 27, 2003


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