- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2003

TEHRAN — Iran’s supreme leader yesterday ruled out any compromise with the United States, accusing Washington of seeking to strip the Islamic Republic of its values through a campaign of intimidation.

Also, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, responding to U.S. charges that Iran was failing to combat Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network, said members of the terror group could be put on trial in Iranian courts.

“The United States is pressuring Iran in order to make the Iranian government and nation give in,” state media quoted Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, as saying.

“Those who are intimidated by the enemy’s demands will retreat step by step and finally surrender. But nobody has the right to do so, and the nation will not allow it,” the all-powerful leader was quoted as saying at a meeting with members of parliament.

Ayatollah Khamenei’s comments come amid mounting U.S. complaints that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program and is trying to undermine American presence in Iraq through support of hard-line Shi’ite Muslim groups.

Iran also has been accused of sheltering top al Qaeda members accused by Washington of having links to the May 12 suicide bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said on Tuesday that the reported arrests of some al Qaeda members this week had not defused U.S. concerns that senior members of the group were in Iran.

Asked about Mr. Fleischer’s comments, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told Reuters news agency yesterday: “On the contrary, we believe America is not serious about fighting terrorism. It adopts a double-standard policy in confronting them, which shows its indecision in dealing with terrorists.”

Mr. Kharrazi insisted Iran was serious about fighting the group, pointing out that several of its members were in the country’s custody.

He said at a news conference that “those who should be sent back to their countries will be, and those who have committed acts against Iran will be tried in Iran itself.”

The minister dismissed accusations that elements of the Islamic regime, especially the hard-line Revolutionary Guards and the intelligence service, could be protecting fugitive al Qaeda operatives.

“These organs answer to an elected government, and everyone in Iran takes the fight against al Qaeda seriously,” he said at the end of the opening day of a ministerial meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Earlier, Mr. Kharrazi said the U.S. accusations about Iran having a nuclear program were undermining international efforts against weapons proliferation.

“Any concern over countries’ noncompliance with weapons of mass destruction instruments needs to be dealt with through international cooperation,” he said.

“The resort to force, or directing unverified accusations … will only undermine the current international arrangements,” he added, saying the International Atomic Energy Agency was the “only competent authority” on the matter.

In Vienna, IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said the agency’s nuclear officials have carried out several inspections in Iran ahead of a report expected to be issued in June.

“We’ve taken several trips already since February,” when IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei was in Iran inspecting sites that Washington has said may be hiding nuclear weapons, she said.

“We are in an inspection process. It’s possible that there might be one more trip” before Mr. ElBaradei reports on Iran’s nuclear activities at an IAEA Board of Governors’ meeting in Vienna on June 16 and 17, she added. “We have taken swipe samples, and we are in the process of doing the analysis right now.”

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