The Wall Street Journal
May 28, 2003
By DAVID S. CLOUD
WASHINGTON — U.S. administration officials are engaged in a heated debate over how to deal with Iran, which said it has no knowledge of al Qaeda leaders the U.S. says operate from its territory and warned the U.S. to stay out of its affairs.
Tuesday, the White House canceled a meeting that was to assess how responsive Tehran is being to U.S. requests for movement against the alleged al Qaeda presence in Iran. White House envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has held periodic meetings with Iranian officials in Geneva, but a planned meeting last week was also canceled to emphasize the U.S. desire for action, administration officials said.
Tensions between Washington and Tehran have escalated over U.S. charges that this month’s car bombings in Saudi Arabia were overseen by al Qaeda leaders in Iran — part of a pattern, U.S. officials assert, of threatening actions emanating from within Iran. Some U.S. officials say intelligence reports of al Qaeda’s presence in Iran are strong enough that the Bush administration shouldn’t continue even informal diplomatic contacts unless Tehran cooperates in rounding up members of the terrorist network.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday that the U.S. will continue contacts with Iran. “Our policies are well-known, and I’m not aware of any changes in policy,” he told reporters. “We have contacts with them. They will continue.”
On Monday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said Iran has no interest in helping al Qaeda’s Islamic militants. Some of the group’s members may have slipped into the country illegally, he said, and several are currently under investigation, but none has been identified as a senior member. Iran also said Monday that it had arrested several suspected al Qaeda members, but White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Tuesday that Iran’s response was insufficient.
As U.S. policy makers discuss taking a tougher stance on Iran, Tehran told Washington to stay out of its domestic affairs. “We hope that wisdom and logic dominates the Americans’ debates and they refrain from carrying out any interference in our affairs,” Mr. Asefi told Reuters new agency.