- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 16, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 16 (UPI) — U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice warned Iran on Sunday to stop supporting terrorists, hours after Tehran announced deporting 500 al Qaida suspects.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said those deported had entered Iran after the collapse of the Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan in December 2001.

But despite the Iranian assurance, Rice said there were reports that Iran was supporting terrorists. "We have consistently said that Iran is a sponsor of terrorism. That's one reason that the president (Bush) singled them out in his State of the Union (address)," Rice told Fox News.

"And we have called on the Iranian government, particularly that part of it that is elected, to act like elected officials and to worry about the concerns and the needs of the Iranian people rather than supporting terrorism," she said.

She said Iran's support of terrorism was "not a new thing; it's been there for a while."

But Kharrazi said Iran has continued to arrest and deport al Qaida suspects since the collapse of the Taliban regime which had allowed al Qaida to build a terrorist network in Afghanistan.

He rejected a media report as incorrect that the eldest son of al Qaida chief Osama bin Laden is hiding in Iran.

An Arabic newspaper, Asharq Al-Awsat, reported last week that Iran was hiding bin Laden's son and a number of other al Qaida operatives.

"We have arrested and deported 500 al Qaida terrorists," said Kharrazi. According to the official Islamic Republic News Agency, Kharrazi said that while declaring a war on al Qaida, the United States was supporting other terrorist organizations in the region.

He claimed that Washington was helping a dissident Iranian guerrilla group called Mojahedin Khalq, which, he said, was a terrorist organization.

"For the U.S. administration … al Qaida network is bad but the Mojahedin Khalq is not because it does not jeopardize U.S. interests," said Kharrazi.

Unlike the United States, he said, Iran believed in arresting those suspected of terrorist activities and returning them to their countries of origin.

U.S. officials have said al Qaida members fleeing from Afghanistan had established a presence in Iran and Iraq. Both Tehran and Baghdad deny the presence of any members of the terror group.

Kharrazi said Iran will never be a sanctuary for members of al Qaida.

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