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US Opposes Iran's Plans to put Suspected al-Qaida Members on Trial - 2004-01-23

The United States said Friday it opposes Iranian plans to put suspected al-Qaida members on trial. Bush administration officials say they should he handed over to the United States or their countries of origin to be interrogated about knowledge they have about terrorist attacks.

The Bush administration believes there may be some senior figures of al-Qaida in Iran, and it is making clear its disapproval of plans announced by the Iranian foreign minister to put 12 suspected members of the terror group on trial in that country at some unspecified date.

In a television interview at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland the Iranian official, Kamal Kharazzi, did not identify those facing trial and said the proceedings would begin "when their files are ready."

At a news briefing here, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said it was not the first time Iran has suggested putting al-Qaida figures on trial and said the U.S. position remains that they should be handed over to countries that want to question them about past or intended terror acts.

"We have long made it clear that we believe Iran should turn over all suspected al-Qaida operatives to the United States, or to countries of origin, or to third countries for further interrogation and trial. In our view, it is essential that other countries have direct access to information these people may have about past and future al-Qaida plans," he said.

Western intelligence officials have said that those held in Iran may include Saad bin Laden, son of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, and the group's Egyptian security chief Saif al-Adl.

The Bush administration has been frustrated that Iran has refused to turn over, or share intelligence learned from, al-Qaida members held there and U.S. officials have said that progress on that issue is essential to any improvement of relations between the two countries.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Iran continues to ignore requests from several countries for the hand over of al-Qaida suspects.

Iran has said it arrested and deported hundreds of al-Qaida members who fled into that country after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001. Last September, it gave the United Nations a list of 225 alleged members of the group it said remained in Iranian hands.