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Archive for Sunday, January 27, 2002

Iranian defense minister says there are no al-Qaida in Iran

January 27, 2002

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— Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani said Sunday his country is in full control of its border with Afghanistan and rejected U.S. accusations that al-Qaida members were sheltering in Iran.

Earlier this month, U.S. President George W. Bush warned Iran against harboring al-Qaida fighters fleeing Afghanistan. Washington officials cited intelligence reports that Tehran was providing sanctuary for a small number of al-Qaida fighters.

The United States, which led the military campaign that toppled the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, also has warned Iran to stay out of Afghan politics. U.S. officials cited reports that Tehran is sending pro-Iranian Afghan fighters and money into Afghanistan to back allied factions and co-religionists of the Shiite Muslim minority.

Shamkhani on Sunday reiterated Iran's rejection of the charges.

"Iran is in full control of its border. The accusations are not true. No member of al-Qaida or Taliban infiltrated into Iran," Shamkhani said. "Iran had faced difficulties during the rule of the Taliban, which precludes any cooperation."

Iran, which shares a 1,000-kilometer (600-mile) border with western Afghanistan, has in the past supported Taliban opponents and has pledged to back the Kabul's interim government.

Iran has reinstated visa requirements for Gulf Arabs to remove the possibility of al-Qaida members infiltrating the country. Iran said it was also canceling a year-old visa waiver for Gulf Cooperation Council members Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, beginning Jan. 21.

Shamkhani said "current security conditions" dictated the visa restrictions and denied that Iran had caught any Gulf nationals belonging to al-Qaida.

Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is suspected of masterminding the Sept. 11 terror attacks. He and many of his followers are Arab and remain on the run or in hiding since the Taliban fell.

Although Washington accuses Iran of sponsoring terrorism worldwide, Iranians and Americans found themselves united in toppling the Taliban.

Shamkhani is on the first visit by an Iranian defense minister to Qatar in more than six years. He called for expanded military cooperation with other Arab countries across the Gulf.

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