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Iran Says It Has Jailed Accused In U.S.-Backed Plot

TEHRAN (Reuters) -- A Tehran court has jailed a number of people accused of involvement in a U.S.-sponsored plot to overthrow Iran's Islamic system of government, a semi-official news agency has said.

The Mehr News Agency said the accused had confessed, but did not say how many they were or give any details on the sentences.

The judiciary last Tuesday said Iran had arrested four Iranians in connection with a suspected U.S.-financed plot to topple the Islamic system, in an announcement made a week before the inauguration of Barack Obama as U.S. president.

"Based on clear confessions, the accused planned to weaken the foundation of the government and overthrow the Islamic system," Mehr quoted Tehran's Revolutionary Court as saying.

Iran often accuses the West of seeking to undermine the Islamic state through a "velvet revolution" with the help of intellectuals and others inside the country.

The United States accuses Tehran of seeking to build nuclear bombs. Iranian officials deny the charge, saying the nuclear program is for electricity production.

Obama has said he sees Iran as a "genuine threat" but he has also pledged to increase diplomatic efforts to engage it, in a shift from George W. Bush's approach.

'Traitorous Agents'

Mehr quoted the court statement as saying the accused in the case had been sentenced to imprisonment and were behind bars.

The Bush administration had "hired a number of renegade and traitorous agents," who, with U.S. funding, aimed to "realize their sinister goals," the court said, according to Mehr.

It added: "The accused have explicitly confessed to the plan to present the United States as the only savior of the Iranian people by creating a gap between the people and the government of Iran."

Under Bush, the United States has spearheaded a drive to isolate Iran in order to pressure it into halting its nuclear activities, something which Tehran has repeatedly refused to do.

"The New York Times" this month said Bush had deflected an Israeli request last year for bunker-busting bombs it wanted for an attack on Iran's nuclear complex, saying he had authorized covert action to sabotage its suspected atomic arms development.

"The New York Times" report said Bush, aware that financial sanctions against Iran were inadequate, had turned to the CIA and authorized a broader effort aimed at Iran's industrial infrastructure supporting its nuclear program.

Obama, who takes office on January 20, has said he will take a new approach toward Tehran that will emphasize respect for the Iranian people and spell out what the United States expects of its leaders.