Secretary of State Colin Powell says there is evidence Iran is sheltering members of the al-Qaida terrorist organization. In a VOA conducted to coincide with the 9-11 anniversary, Mr. Powell maintained none-the-less that the United States is open to better relations with Tehran if it disassociates itself from terrorism and efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction.
Mr. Powell says the United States has evidence that al-Qaida is finding "some sanctuary" in Iran. But he said that is only one element in what he said was a "mixed picture" of Iranian behavior since 9-11 reflecting the power struggle between conservative and moderate elements within the Islamic government.
In a talk with VOA on the foreign policy aspects of the anniversary, the Secretary said the United States had been "pleased" with the Iranian role in the Bonn conference late last year that created the interim government in Afghanistan and the ensuing Tokyo conference on Afghan reconstruction in January.
While also crediting Iran with helping expedite delivery of emergency food aid to Afghanistan, he cited the sheltering of al-Qaida members as another reflection of the internal struggle under way in Tehran, a process he said is "fascinating to watch."
"Do you support terrorism or don't you support terrorism? Should you pursue weapons of mass destruction or not? Should you harbor terrorism or not? And what we have said to Iran is that you know, the opportunity for a better relationship with the United States rests on your forswearing support of terrorist activity, and that has to include al-Qaida of course, and your moving away from weapons of mass destruction and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. And so Iran has to make a choice," explained Mr. Powell.
The Secretary said if Iran wishes to be a part of the world that's moving forward in the 21st century," it has to "start acting in a more responsible way."
Mr. Powell is the most senior Bush administration official to raise the issue of Iranian safe-haven for al-Qaida members, a practice condemned by a White House spokesman late last month as unacceptable.
U.S. officials have given no details of who Iran might be sheltering, though the Washington Post newspaper has quoted Arab sources as saying "dozens" of members of the terror group are staying in Iranian towns near the Afghan border including two senior members of the al-Qaida hierarchy.