- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Iran is allowing al Qaeda terrorists to cross its borders from neighboring Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday, suggesting that Tehran is at cross-purposes with the Bush administration's campaign to round up al Qaeda's leaders.
Mr. Rumsfeld brushed off reports that the Iranians had captured and deported some al Qaeda members to their native countries.
Saudi Arabian officials say Iran handed over 16 suspected al Qaeda fighters that the Saudis had asked for.
And in the first visit by an Iranian head of state to Afghanistan in 40 years, President Mohammed Khatami told reporters in Kabul yesterday that his government has given suspects to other countries as well.
"We have longer experience than the Americans in fighting terrorism," he told a joint news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Asked at a Pentagon press conference how he interpreted the news, Mr. Rumsfeld said: "With respect to the terrorists that they say they have turned in, they've turned none in to us."
Mr. Rumsfeld has on several occasions charged that Iran has let al Qaeda members escape to safety through its territory. And two terrorism suspects captured by naval forces in a U.S.-led ship interdiction last month were coming from Iran, officials said at the time.
"They have permitted al Qaeda to enter their country. They are permitting al Qaeda to be present in their country today," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "And it may very well be that they, for whatever reason, have turned over some people to other countries, but they've not turned any to us."
Mr. Rumsfeld said Mr. Khatami's visit to Afghanistan is "probably a useful thing." Mr. Khatami offered a $500 million aid package and sought stronger Afghan efforts to block opium production and trafficking.
"Obviously they're a big, important neighboring country to Afghanistan, and it's important that Afghanistan have a relationship with all its neighbors so that the government is able to go forward and strengthen itself and function as a government in the country," Mr. Rumsfeld said in answer to a question. "That's much easier to do if you have neighbors that are not unfriendly."
On other topics, he said:
News reports that he is frustrated by the slow progress in hunting down al Qaeda fugitives in Afghanistan are "utter nonsense." He denied reports that he is unhappy with the way Gen. Tommy R. Franks is running the war. "We're working together on these things," he said, referring to the top military commanders. "It is a healthy, constructive set of give-and-take that I find interesting and worthwhile and, I must say, productive."
Security in Afghanistan is "essentially sound," despite continuing friction between two regional warlords southeast of Kabul, the capital. "In the rest of the country, the circumstance is relatively settled," permitting refugees to return to their homes and aid workers to operate safely, he said.

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