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White House May Increase Pressure on Iran Over Alleged al-Qaida Links - 2003-05-25

There are signs the Bush administration may be looking at ways to put more pressure on Iran as part of the war on terrorism. U.S. officials remain concerned about Iranian links to the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Neither the White House nor the Pentagon has made any secret about the depth of their concern. As a result, there is speculation about possible U.S. action to pressure Iran.

A report in The Washington Post, for example, said the administration has suspended contacts with Iranian officials. The report said the administration is looking at its options, including steps to destabilize Iran's government from within.

The Bush administration has not commented on the Washington Post report. But in a series of interviews on American television, key members of congress offered their advice to the White House on possible next steps regarding Iran.

California Congresswoman Jane Harmon is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. She told the CBS program Face the Nation that she has long urged a greater focus on Iran's links to terrorism. "Iran, after all, is arming Hezbollah terrorists along the Lebanese border with Israel. Iran tried to send 50 tons of arms to the Palestinian Authority. Iran has been building weapons of mass destruction and is closer to building nuclear weapons than Iraq was," she said.

She urged the Bush administration to find a solution that relies on diplomacy. Speaking on the same program, Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss spoke of the delicate balance that must be struck in dealing with Iran. The Florida Republican said action must be taken against those who support terrorism without damaging reformers within Iranian society.

"The thing about Iran is there are democratic elements we need to deal with. The thing about Iran is there are also weapons of mass destruction problems and there has been trafficking and development there with other nations. We have other opportunities to bring pressure to bear on Iran in a different way than we had in Iraq," he said.

But Congressman Goss did not go into specifics. On NBC's Meet the Press, Kansas Republican Pat Roberts, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said only that he is sure the Bush administration will get its message through to Tehran.

"There may be some good news around the corner. And that is all I will say about that," Mr. Roberts said.

The Iranian government had its chance to present its case on American television as well. During an appearance on ABC's This Week program, Iran's ambassador to the U.N., Javad Zarif, said his country is taking action against al-Qaida operatives caught on Iranian soil.

"Iran has been very active in capturing, arresting and preventing the entry of al-Qaida into Iran, and once they enter Iran in capturing and arresting and extraditing them to friendly governments," Mr. Zarif said.

Ambassador Zarif said he could not say if specific top al-Qaida operatives were among those in custody. He said it is hard to identify those being held because they entered Iran with forged passports.