Iran rejects accusations of hosting al-Qaida, destabilizing Afghanistan

Thursday, January 10th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ An Iranian vice president on Thursday dismissed U.S. allegations that a small number of al-Qaida and Taliban fighters had entered the country from Afghanistan.

In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, vice president for parliamentary affairs, said Iran was not harboring fugitive fighters from Afghanistan where the U.S.-led coalition ousted the Taliban government and its al-Qaida allies.

``There is no ground for the Taliban, al-Qaida fighters and their supporters to seek shelter in Iran. Iran has never been on good terms with the Taliban and their supporters,'' Abtahi said.

``It has been our policy not to allow terrorist groups such as al-Qaida in Iran,'' added Abtahi, who is vice president for parliamentary affairs.

President Bush warned Iranian officials Thursday not to harbor al-Qaida fighters and not to try to destabilize the country's new government. If the warning is ignored, Bush said, the U.S.-led coalition ``will deal with them ... in diplomatic ways, initially.''

State television said an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman rejected Bush's remarks as ``baseless.''

``Iran's fundamental policy on Afghanistan is based on the preservation of that country's independence and the right of the Afghan people to determine their own fate,'' spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said in a statement read on the television.

``Iran's border with Afghanistan has been closed (after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States) and under the tight control of the authorities,'' he said.

Bush said Iran should hand over any al-Qaida supporters who might flee Afghanistan. And he said: ``If they try, in any way, shape or form to destabilize the government, the coalition will deal with them ... in diplomatic ways, initially.''

The television reported that Bush had accused Iran of trying to destabilize its neighbor to the east.