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Monday, 4 February, 2002, 10:18 GMT
Iran warns US against attack
Iranian men shout anti-US slogans
Protests against US condemnation of Iran are growing
Iran on Monday warned the US to stop accusing it of supporting terrorism after American Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld claimed it was harbouring al-Qaeda members.

Foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi dismissed Mr Rumsfeld's charges and those of President George W Bush, who last week said Iran was developing weapons of mass destruction as part of an "axis of evil" with Iraq and North Korea.


Our borders are closed and we are blocking all illegal entry

Iranian spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi
"I only hope the Americans will not make such a huge, irreparable mistake," Mr Asefi said when asked about the possibility of a US attack on the Islamic republic.

"It would be better if American leaders expressed themselves on the basis of real facts and not their imagination, and if they furnished some proof," he said.

Mr Rumsfeld said on Sunday he was sure Tehran had helped members of the al-Qaeda network and its allies, Afghanistan's former ruling Taleban, escape into Iran.

"There isn't any doubt in my mind that the porous border between Iran and Afghanistan has been used for al-Qaeda and Taleban to move into Iran and seek refuge," he said.

War of words

Mr Asefi countered: "We deny all reports about the presence of al-Qaeda members in Iran.


US marine in Kandahar
"War on terror" not over
1. Iraq: Suspected of wanting to pursue programmes to develop nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and missile developments
2. Iran: Listed by US as state sponsor of terrorism. Washington says Tehran plans to develop weapons of mass destruction
3. North Korea: The US's main concern has been missiles and other weapons programmes and willingness to export sensitive technology

See also:
Detailed clickable map

"As far as we are concerned, our borders are closed and we are blocking all illegal entry."

The war of words between the two countries, sparked by Mr Bush's comments in his State of the Union speech, was fuelled over the weekend by Mr Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Mr Powell told US television that Iran, Iraq and North Korea "continue to act in ways that just are inconsistent with the expectations of the 21st century and are hindering our campaign against terrorism".

Separately, Ms Rice urged Americans to devote their energy to containing the threat posed by arms proliferation.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has thanked Iran for its "great support" and Britain and the European Union have said they will continue engagement with Tehran.

Supervision

Last week, Iran's spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused Mr Bush of being "thirsty for human blood" and the State of the Union address was also condemned by Iran's President Mohammad Khatami and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi.

Donald Rumsfeld
Mr Rumsfeld accused Iran of supplying weapons to Afghanistan

On Monday, when asked about alleged Iranian weapons of mass destruction, Mr Asefi said: "If you are talking about the Bushehr nuclear plant, it is supervised, monitored and visited by the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran is a signatory of all international conventions in this regard."

Iran's state news agency IRNA quoted former Revolutionary Guard chief Mohsen Rezai as also denying US claims that members of al-Qaeda were in Iran.

"The Iranian-Afghan borders are minutely controlled and no member of the al-Qaeda forces has been authorised to enter Iran," he was quoted as saying.

Speaking on the US television network ABC, Mr Rumsfeld also accused Iran of supplying weapons to factions within Afghanistan, thereby contributing to instability.

BBC Washington correspondent John Leyne says the main purpose of the remarks was not to threaten war but rather to increase Iran's diplomatic isolation.

Iran has traditionally been an enemy of the Taleban, though it has always had strong links with parts of Afghanistan.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The Times' Michael Binyon and Lecturer Sadeq Ziba
"The United States still regards Iran as an enemy"
Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
"There are changes going on in Iran"
John Bolton, US State Department
"I rate the threat from Iran very highly"
See also:

31 Jan 02 | Middle East
Iran lashes out at Bush
30 Jan 02 | Americas
Iran accuses Bush of war-mongering
26 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Kim dismisses 'rogue' status
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