Iran returns fire over US 'double standard'

By PAUL HUGHES in Tehran

Iran yesterday denied United States allegations that it had secret atomic facilities or links with al Qaeda, accusing Washington of double standards in the war on terror.

US officials have increased pressure on Tehran, saying it is not doing enough to root out members of al Qaeda who may have played a role in suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia this month.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said a handful of suspects were being questioned and it was not clear whether they included senior members of Osama bin Laden's network.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said this week the arrests had not defused US concerns that senior al Qaeda members were in Iran.

Asked about Fleischer's comments, Asefi said: "We believe America is not serious about fighting terrorism. It adopts a double standard ... which shows its indecision in dealing with terrorists."

Iran has expressed concerns that the US has not dealt firmly with its main opposition threat, the Iraq-based People's Mujahideen militia, despite the US State Department listing it as a terrorist organisation.

Washington, which broke ties with Tehran after the 1979 Islamic revolution, has also accused Iran of interfering in neighbouring Iraq.

A senior US defence official said yesterday that the Bush Administration was voicing increased "serious unhappiness ... about the harbouring by Iran of terrorists, particularly important al Qaeda personnel".

"There is a renewed intensity to the reasonable demand that the Iranians stop harbouring al Qaeda terrorists," said Undersecretary of Defence for Policy Douglas Feith. . "It's a demand that is in Iran's interest to heed."

Thirty-four people, including eight Americans, died in the Riyadh attacks on May 12, which Washington blames on al Qaeda.

US officials have also said they want the International Atomic Energy Agency to declare Iran in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The IAEA is due to report on the findings of a February visit to Iran on June 16.

Iran says its nuclear ambitions are limited to generating electricity and that it has told the IAEA about all of its nuclear facilities.

"We don't have any site hidden from the IAEA," said Khalil Moosavi, spokesman for Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation.

Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi yesterday told a meeting of foreign ministers from the Organisation of the Islamic Conference that "media campaigns" were trying to associate Islam with terrorism.

"Ascribing the fanatic and perverted beliefs of the Taleban and al Qaeda terrorist organisation to Islam ... is a deceitful tactic and a conspiracy to contain the spread of Islamism and Islamic tendencies in the world," he said.

- REUTERS

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