- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2001

LONDON — Iran has closed its border with Afghanistan to prevent a fresh influx of refugees fleeing a feared American retaliation against Osama bin Laden and his hosts.
As Kabul's Taliban leaders vowed to hit back at any neighbor helping the United States, U.N. agencies say they have noted a sharp increase in the movement of Afghan civilians.
Iran is already home to about 1.5 million Afghan refugees and has made clear that it will not accept more.
Iran's centrist President Mohammad Khatami has denounced the attacks in New York and Washington, but he faces a dilemma over how to respond to the U.S. attempt to build an international coalition for a sustained military campaign in Afghanistan.
Iran's Islamic rulers have long been at odds with the United States, but they are opposed to the Taliban regime in Kabul. Iran provides weapons to the anti-Taliban northern alliance in the Panjshir valley, and supports smaller Shi'ite groups in western Iran.
As in the 1991 Gulf war against Iraq — Iran's main foe —the United States and Iran could find a pragmatic common interest in weakening the Taliban. As in 1991, Iran may not join directly in an alliance with "the Great Satan," but it may not attempt to hamper it.
Iranian media reported yesterday that the mayor of Tehran, Morteza Alviri, had sent a message of condolence to New York's Rudolph W. Giuliani in the first public official contact between the two countries since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
"The news about the recent terrorist acts which took many innocent lives in New York caused deep grief and sorrow. Undoubtedly, this act is not just against New Yorkers, but all humanity," Mr. Alviri said in the letter written jointly with the head of Tehran's city council, Mohammad Atrianfar.
It was the first such missive sent to a U.S. official, Reuters news agency reported. Earlier messages of condolence were addressed to "the American people."
Mr. Khatami, a reformer, also has expressed support for the United States following Tuesday's attacks.
However, the view of the hard-line clerics who control the security services and the courts is not clear.
For the moment, Tehran is worried mainly that any new unrest in Afghanistan will spill across its eastern frontier.
"Iran has called on the security forces to seal off the 560-mile joint border to encounter the consequences of probable U.S. retaliatory strikes against Afghanistan," the interior ministry said.
Hossein Zare-Sefat, the deputy governor-general for security affairs of Khorassan province, bordering Afghanistan, added: "Whatever happens, we will defend our territory and will not let any damage be inflicted on our borders."
He said Iran intended to settle any refugees on the Afghan side of the border, and that Iranian authorities had prepared tents, water and food.
Newspapers in Pakistan, where about 2 million Afghan refugees are sheltered, said the number of people arriving from Afghanistan had risen sharply in the past two days, swelling already crowded refugee camps.
Surendra Banday, an official of the U.N.. High Commissioner for Refugees in Iran, said: "We are preparing for a rapid influx."
She said negotiations were taking place with the Iranian government on where to set up camps.

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