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US Not to Sever Relations With Iran Over Al-Qaida - 2003-05-27

The Bush administration says Iran's response to U.S. calls to move against al-Qaida members is "insufficient." But officials say the United States has not severed contacts with the Iranian government over the issue. Administration officials say the United States stayed away from a meeting with Iran that was to have been held last week in Geneva because of information Iran has sheltered members of the al-Qaida terrorist organization.

But White House spokesman Ari Fleischer and Secretary of State Colin Powell are denying press reports that U.S. contacts with Iran have been permanently cut off.

Mr. Powell, who spoke to reporters after a meeting with Madagascar's president Marc Ravalomanana, said a U.S. policy toward Iran that includes dialogue continues, despite long-standing policy concerns.

"Our policies with respect to Iran have not changed," asserted Mr. Powell. "We do not approve of their support of terrorist activities. We have made it clear over the years that we disapprove of their efforts to develop a nuclear capability. And our policies are well known, and I am not aware of any changes of policy of the kind that have been speculated upon."

Mr. Powell said the United States has had, and will continue to have, political contacts with Iran. And joking about press speculation about a more confrontational U.S. approach with the Tehran government, he said there is much in the news which he has been "unable to source."

Iran, which denies knowingly sheltering al-Qaida members, said Monday it had arrested several people suspected of being members of the group, though White House spokesman Fleischer termed that "insufficient".

Mr. Fleischer said the United States "will not miss" opportunities to state its case to Iran, through whatever channels are appropriate, about its alleged harboring of terrorists and other matters.

The spokesman confirmed reports that members of President Bush's national security team would meet in the next few days to review the U.S. policy toward Iran, but he appeared to rule out any use of force, saying "these are diplomatic endeavors."