Archive for Saturday, June 23, 2001

Saudi Arabia, Iran dispute indictment

June 23, 2001


— Iran and Saudi Arabia, one America's sworn enemy and the other a stalwart ally, criticized the United States on Friday for indicting 14 people in the 1996 bombing of a U.S. military barracks in the desert kingdom.

Iran denied U.S. allegations that it was involved in the blast, which killed 19 U.S. servicemen. Saudi Arabia's defense minister rebuked Washington for issuing indictments in a case he said his country alone has the right to prosecute.

The sharp criticism from the two oil giants of the Persian Gulf reflected the danger that the U.S. indictments issued Thursday could disrupt the delicate web of relations in the region.

Saudi Arabia has feared that U.S. attempts to implicate Tehran in the bombing could put it at odds with Iran just as the two countries' ties are beginning to improve.

Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan, a brother of Saudi leader King Fahd, pointedly said that while a country can "discuss" the case "it doesn't have the right to take any procedures. Only Saudi Arabia has the right to take procedures."

Sultan, speaking just before returning home from a visit to Yemen, said the United States should turn to the kingdom all the documents and evidence in the case, as well as a list of the accused, so Saudi officials can handle it.

Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft announced the indictments against 13 Saudis and a Lebanese in Washington on Thursday. He said "elements of the Iranian government inspired, supported and supervised" members of the Saudi Hezbollah, the group blamed for the blast.

But U.S. officials acknowledged there is no proof yet of Iranian involvement in the June 25, 1996, truck-bomb attack on the Khobar Towers apartments in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, which also injured hundreds.

"The U.S. judiciary has leveled charges against Iran which have no legal and judicial basis," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said Friday, quoted by the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.

He denounced the allegations of Iranian involvement as part of "the ceaseless efforts of the United States to pressure the Islamic Republic."

There have been concerns that U.S. efforts to implicate Iran could also boost hard-liners opposed to the reform agenda of President Mohammad Khatami, who has sought better relations with the United States.

Some of the 14 suspects are believed to be in Saudi custody, with the rest likely still at large. The United States does not have an extradition treaty with Saudi Arabia.

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