- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 25, 2003

Iran’s hard-line government, accused by the Bush administration of harboring top al Qaeda members, poses a big problem for the United States and should be replaced, lawmakers said yesterday.

Democrats and Republicans urged extreme care in working toward that end to avoid fomenting an anti-American reaction among Iranians who admire the U.S. way of life.

In Tehran, Iran’s foreign minister insisted his country does not and would not shelter al Qaeda terrorists and even has jailed some members of Osama bin Laden’s network and plans to prosecute them.

“Iran has been the pioneer in fighting al Qaeda terrorists, who have been posing threats to our national interests,” Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told the state-run Tehran Television. “Iran was al Qaeda’s enemy before the U.S.”

Worry about activities of senior al Qaeda operatives thought to be in Iran was a factor in raising the domestic terror-alert level in the United States last week, officials have said. Those operatives are suspected of being connected to the recent bombings in Saudi Arabia and Morocco.

Rep. Porter J. Goss, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Iran has shown some cooperation on terrorism but not enough.

“The trick in Iran is this: The good guys are trying to bring some reform; the bad guys control the levers of power. Sorting the two apart and then isolating the bad guys and taking the levers of power away from them is what’s got to happen,” said Mr. Goss, Florida Republican, on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“It’s got to happen in a way that does not shut down the reformists or cause repercussions to the reformists. This is hard,” he said.

Lawmakers in favor of a new government in Iran did not advocate a military solution.

Rep. Jane Harman of California, ranking Democrat on Mr. Goss’ committee, said she considered Iran “more of a clear and present danger than Iraq last year” but wants a diplomatic focus.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat and a presidential hopeful who strongly backed the Iraq war, said “regime change” is the answer in Iran. He said he was not suggesting U.S. military action because of the pro-American attitudes of many Iranians.

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee suggested without elaboration that Americans might expect “better cooperation from Iran once the strong signal has gone out” that the United States will not accept weapons of mass destruction there.

“There are efforts being made that would be very productive in regards to Iran and ourselves, with the understanding of the al Qaeda cell that allegedly came from Iran and had something to do with the Saudi Arabia attacks,” Sen. Pat Robert, Kansas Republican, told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, worried about taking on too much at once, citing the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I’d like to see us finish one job at a time,” he said on the same program.

Iran’s top diplomat in the United States, Javad Zarif, said his government was interested in easing tensions with the United States.

“At the same time, if the United States only wants to speak through the language of pressure, then Iran will resist,” said Mr. Zarif, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations.

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