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Iran: Tehran Denies Helping Al-Qaeda

Tehran, 4 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Iran today denied U.S. allegations that members of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network have fled from Afghanistan to Iran. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Assefi said during a news conference in Tehran that Iran's borders are closed and they are blocking all illegal entry.

Yesterday, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld accused Iran of helping Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters escape into Iran.

Rumsfeld said on American television that the U.S. government has report that Iranian authorities have been "permissive" and allowed Al-Qaeda members to transit into Iran.

Rumsfeld contrasted Iran to Pakistan, which he said has been helpful in trying to stop Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters from entering Pakistan. But Rumsfeld said it was likely that some Taliban and Al-Qaeda members had succeeded in entering Pakistan.

Rumsfeld also accused Iran of supplying arms to what he called "various elements" in Afghanistan. Iranian officials have strongly denied previous such allegations from the U.S.

President George W. Bush last week labeled Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as an "axis of evil" for their alleged pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

Assefi said the U.S. accusations show that its leaders are not sincere when they say they want rapprochement with Iran.

When asked about the possibility of a U.S. attack against Iran, Assefi said he hopes "Americans will not make such a huge, irreparable mistake."