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Iran Won’t Hand Over Suspects

From Times Wire Services

Iran on Tuesday rejected a U.S. demand to hand over suspected senior Al Qaeda operatives, saying they would stand trial in Iranian courts, state-run radio reported. The United States called the rejection an indication that Iran is “supporting terrorism.”

A day earlier, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell insisted that senior Al Qaeda operatives held by Iran be turned over to their countries of origin or to the U.S. for interrogation and trial.

“Al Qaeda operatives currently in custody have committed crimes in Iran,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi was quoted as saying in a radio broadcast. “They will be tried in Iranian courts and will be punished on the basis of the laws of the country.”

Asefi said Powell’s demand was “irrelevant.” He said that for security reasons, Iran would not reveal the number and names of suspects in custody.

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Responding Tuesday in Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said: “We remain deeply concerned about these kind of objectionable and damaging policies that Iran has pursued with regard to supporting terrorism.... And we remain particularly concerned by the presence of senior Al Qaeda figures in Iran.”

The U.S. has accused Iran of developing nuclear weapons and harboring Al Qaeda fugitives.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage said Tuesday that relations with Tehran would not improve until the Iranians shared intelligence about Al Qaeda members in Iran.

“We are prepared to engage in limited discussions with the government of Iran about areas of mutual interest as appropriate,” he said.

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“We have not, however, entered into any broad dialogue with the aim of normalizing relations,” he added, in testimony prepared for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Armitage also said that Cuba-based jamming of U.S. satellite broadcasts to Iran was carried out by Iranians, not by the Cuban government, and that it had stopped.

The State Department in July said it had formally asked the Cuban government to investigate the jamming, which U.S. officials said was disrupting U.S. government and private television broadcasts aimed at the opposition in Iran.

The jamming coincided with Iranian opposition preparations for protests planned for July 9, the fourth anniversary of a raid by vigilantes on a Tehran University dormitory. Some protests took place that day, but they were far smaller than the opposition and their U.S.-based supporters had hoped.

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