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Iran strikes back at US for nuke lab salvo

Tehran, May 28 (Reuters): Iran today denied US charges it had secret nuclear facilities or links with al Qaida and accused Washington of double standards in the war on terror.

US officials have increased pressure on Tehran in recent days, accusing it of taking insufficient steps to root out members of al Qaida in Iran who may have played a role in the May 12 suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia.

Foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said a “handful” of suspects was still being questioned and it was not yet clear whether the group includes senior members of Osama bin Laden’s network who may have known about the Riyadh attacks. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said today the arrests had not quelled US concerns that senior al Qaida members were still in Iran.

Asked about Fleischer’s comments, Asefi turned the tables.

“On the contrary, we believe America is not serious about fighting terrorism. It adopts a double standard policy in confronting them which shows its indecision in dealing with terrorists,” he said.

Iran has expressed concerns that the US has not dealt firmly with its main Opposition threat, the Iraq-based People’s Mujahideen militia, despite the fact that it is listed as a terrorist organisation by the US state department. Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Washington was trying to force Iran to turn its back on Islamic government. “The main goal of America in stepping up pressure on Iran is to make the people and government give in to its superpower will,” state radio quoted Khamenei as saying in a speech.

Reformist MPs and some leading clerics have said Iran’s clerical establishment could suffer the same fate as deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein unless the Iranian people’s desire for change was heeded.

But Khamenei, who has the last word on all matters of state, said calls for change were part of an enemy plot to destabilise Iran from within and would be resisted.

“Today if anyone turns away from Islam the people will ignore them and the Islamic system will go on as powerfully as now,” he told legislators in an address.

Senior US policymakers are due to hold a meeting on Iran with the Pentagon reportedly pushing for a tougher line including actions to destabilise its clerical rulers.

Washington has also accused Iran of interfering in neighbouring Iraq.

U.S. officials have also said they want the International Atomic Energy Agency to declare Iran in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The IAEA is due to report on the findings of a February visit to Iran on June 16.

An exiled Iranian opposition group on Tuesday said it had learned of two previously undisclosed nuclear sites. Iran says its nuclear ambitions are limited to generating electricity and that it has told the IAEA about all of its nuclear facilities.

”We don't have any site hidden from the IAEA,” Khalil Moosavi, spokesman for Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, said by telephone.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was quoted as saying on Wednesday that Moscow would proceed with the construction of a nuclear power station in Iran.

”Russia cooperates with Iran in this area strictly within the framework of peaceful programmes conducted under the jurisdiction of the IAEA,” he told Interfax news agency.

(Additional reporting by Parinoosh Arami, Khosro Nazari)

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