- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2005

The State Department said yesterday that it has closed its investigation into reports that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, took part in the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, even though no conclusion has been reached.

The investigation stalled because the Iranian government refused to answer questions from Washington, said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

“We’ve arrived at a point where really the ball is in the Iranians’ court to answer those unanswered questions,” Mr. McCormack told reporters.

The probe began after some of the former 52 American hostages said they remembered seeing Mr. Ahmadinejad among the student leaders who controlled the embassy.

“There are certainly different memories of his potential participation,” Mr. McCormack said. “We in no way want to discount the recollections of those who say that he was involved in some fashion in the questioning and holding of the hostages.”

The drama, which began 26 years ago today after the Islamic Revolution in Iran, lasted 444 days. The United States broke diplomatic relations with Iran over the incident, and ties continue to be sour.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, a hard-line former mayor of Tehran who was elected president in June, has signaled that his foreign policy will be hostile toward the West.

His government announced this week a recall of 40 ambassadors abroad, including those to Britain, France and Germany, which have been trying to negotiate a deal with Iran to end its nuclear program.

Washington accuses Tehran of pursuing nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian effort.

Last week, Mr. Ahmadinejad said that Israel should be “wiped off the map.”

More than 10,000 people demonstrated in front of the Iranian Embassy in Rome yesterday against Mr. Ahmadinejad’s remark. The rally was organized by a conservative newspaper partly owned by the wife of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini and Defense Minister Antonio Martino, who had planned to attend the rally, pulled out, saying they feared for the security of Italians living in Iran.

Also yesterday, the State Department called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of jailed Iranian activist Akbar Ganji, whose health, it said, “is at serious risk” as a result of being beaten.

Mr. Ganji, who was hospitalized after his hunger strike in August, has been imprisoned for more than five years.

“His imprisonment and any inhumane treatment are serious violations of fundamental human rights,” Mr. McCormack said.

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