TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran on Wednesday denied U.S. charges it had secret nuclear facilities or harbored members of the “fanatic” al Qaeda network and accused Washington of double standards in the war on terror.
U.S. officials have increased pressure on Tehran in recent days, accusing it of taking insufficient steps to root out members of al Qaeda in Iran who may have played a role in the May 12 suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia in which 34 people died.
But Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said Iran had nothing to do with the “fanatic and perverted beliefs” of al Qaeda and said any doubts about Iran’s nuclear program should be cleared up by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
“Resorting to force, or directing unverified accusations… will only undermine the current international arrangements,” he said in a speech to a conference of Islamic countries.
Iran says it has arrested and deported around 500 al Qaeda members in the past year and is currently interrogating a “handful” of other suspects.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said it was not yet clear whether the detainees included senior members of Osama bin Laden’s network who may have known about the Riyadh attacks.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said on Tuesday the arrests had not quelled U.S. concerns about al Qaeda in Iran.
Asked about Fleischer’s comments, Asefi turned the tables.
“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,” he told Reuters.
Iran has expressed concerns that the United States has not dealt firmly with its main opposition threat, the Iraq-based People’s Mujahideen militia, despite the fact that it is listed as a terrorist organization by the State Department.
Senior U.S. policymakers are due to hold a meeting on Iran on Thursday with the Pentagon reportedly pushing for a tougher line including actions to destabilize its clerical rulers.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Washington was trying to force Iran to turn its back on Islamic government.
“The main goal of America in stepping up pressure on Iran is to make the people and government give in to its superpower will,” state radio quoted Khamenei as saying in a speech.
Reformists in Iran have said the clerical establishment could suffer the same fate as deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein unless the people’s desire for change was heeded.
But Khamenei, who has the last word on all matters of state, said calls for change were part of an enemy plot to destabilize Iran from within and would be resisted.
Washington has also said it wants the IAEA to declare Iran in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty when it reports on the findings of a February visit to Iran on June 16.
An exiled Iranian opposition group on Tuesday said it had learned of two previously undisclosed nuclear sites. Iran says its nuclear ambitions are limited to generating electricity and that it has told the IAEA about all of its nuclear facilities.
“We don’t have any site hidden from the IAEA,” said Khalil Moosavi, spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization.
IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said the U.N. body was investigating the fresh allegations.