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Iran rejects report on Khatami's letter to US secretary of state

Iran on Thursday rejected a press report on President Mohammad Khatami's alleged letter to US Secretary of State Colin Powell, asking the two countries to continue their secret and direct talks in Geneva, IRNA reported from Tehran.

The Saudi newspaper Al Watan on Wednesday quoted unnamed European diplomats as saying that President Khatami in a letter to Powell had called for formally direct and secret talks between Tehran and Washington to continue.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi stressed that "no letter has ever been written to any American official by Mr. Khatami."

"The Islamic Republic of Iran does not need to establish clandestine relations with any country and it defines its ties with other countries in a transparent way according to national interests and legal decisions," he said.

"Over the past years, there have been formal channels to arrange relations and Iran has passed its views through these official and legal channels to its opposing sides," Asefi added.

The official also reiterated Iran's resolve to confront any individual and group found to be linked to Al Qaeda, which Washington accuses of masterminding terror attacks on American landmarks on Sept 11, 2001.

"Iran has always announced that it is the biggest victim of terrorism and it will continue to confront the terrorist Al Qaeda group and that it does not need the advice of foreign governments in this regard," Asefi said.

Tehran says it has arrested about 500 foreigners on suspicion of links to Al Qaeda so far, with some of them extradited to their country of origin.

On Monday, a government spokesman denied reports that Tehran sought to swap with the United States some of the detained Al Qaeda members with senior elements of terrorist opposition Mujahedin Khalq Organization.

"Such a proposal has never been made by the Iranian government," Abdollah Remezanzadeh said, adding "we do not make a deal nor act selectively in fighting terrorism.

"In our view, fighting terrorism must be put on the agenda of all the world governments and there must be no exception about that; nor any deal must be made on terrorists," he said.

Asked whether press reports on Washington's demand on Tehran to extradite detained Al Qaeda members to that country were true, the spokesman said, "I am really uninformed about details in this regard and I am not commenting on that; the government either has not discussed such matters."

"We have no agreement with the American government for the extradition of criminals and I don't know if America has really made such a request or not."

Ramezanzadeh said security considerations needed that it did not reveal the names of an unspecified number of foreigners, held in custody because of their suspected links to Al Qaeda.

"As it regards the country's security, we do not see it advisable to announce the names of these individuals," he said.

... Payvand News - 8/8/03 ... --

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