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Monday, 4 February, 2002, 10:18 GMT
Iran warns US against attack
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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