The Bush administration renewed
its call on Iran Monday to hand over, either to the United States or their countries
of origin, members of al-Qaida it has in custody. But the State Department denied
suggestions the United States has offered to exchange Iraqi-based Iranian opposition
figures for members of the Osama bin Laden terrorist group.
The State Department says U.S. officials suspect that Iran has some senior
operatives of al-Qaida in detention and says it is "essential" that the United
States and other countries be given access to them and the information they
may have about past and future plans of the terrorist organization.
The comments here came in response to a news report Sunday that Jordan's
King Abdullah, who held talks in Washington late last week, has been trying
to broker a deal under which Iran would hand over the al-Qaida members it has
in exchange for Iranian opposition members under questioning by U.S. forces
U.S. troops in Iraq disarmed members of the Iranian group, the Mujahidin-e-Khalq
or MEK, earlier this year when they moved into the area along the Iranian border
where the group, officially designated a terrorist organization by the United
States, had long been based.
But at a news briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher rejected
the notion that a trade for Iranian-held al-Qaida members was being considered.
"The United States is not engaged in discussions regarding a swap of Mujahidin-e-Khalq
members held by U.S. forces in Iraq in return for al-Qaida members held in
Iran," he said. "The U.S. is questioning Mujahidin-e-Khalq members that are
held by U.S. forces in order to determine whether any further legal proceedings
The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq put an end to military activity by the MEK,
and the Bush administration has in recent months taken a tougher line toward
the organization, in August shutting down U.S. offices of the group's nominally-independent
political wing, the National Council of Resistance, and freezing its assets.
Spokesman Boucher said Iran has turned over some al-Qaida members to third
countries in recent years, but said he is aware of no progress on the hand
over of those currently detained, among whom he said may be members of the
terror group's "top leadership."
Diplomats and Arab press reports have said those held by Iran may include,
among others, the second-ranking al-Qaida operative, Ayman al-Zawahri, and
Osama bin Laden's son, Saad.