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Last Updated

16 May 2003

Source: Reuters, May 16, 2003

Iran Denies Has Banned Weapons or Shelters Al Qaeda

By Parinoosh Arami

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian government officials strongly denied on Friday that Iran was producing weapons of mass destruction or was sheltering members of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

A senior government official denied allegations by an exile opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, that Tehran had biological weapons armed with anthrax, smallpox and typhoid.

"I strongly deny that we have biological weapons because we do not need any banned weapons," the official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.

President Bush has dubbed Iran part of an "axis of evil" and accused the Tehran government of sponsoring terrorism and developing nuclear arms.

Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, reiterated U.S. criticism of Iran on Wednesday, accusing it of being one of the world's leading "sponsors of terror."

She said the United States had raised alarms about Iran's nuclear weapons programs and also believed it allowed al Qaeda to operate from its territory.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi rejected those accusations on Friday as "baseless."

"The Islamic Republic of Iran, based on its own principles, is very serious and resolved to combat terrorism and its nuclear programs are very transparent and peaceful," Asefi was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying.

The agency also said Asefi rejected U.S. accusations that leaders of al Qaeda were living in Iran. The United States blames the group for the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran, the political wing of the People's Mujahideen Organisation, provided a list of names and places at a Washington news conference on Thursday where it said biological weapons were being produced.

The group, which previously exposed the existence of Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment facility the United States says is part of a nuclear weapons program, did not provide any evidence to back up its new claims on biological weapons, but said its information came from Iranian government sources.

The Iraq-based Iranian rebel group started surrendering to the U.S. military last week under a deal that effectively ends it operations as a fighting force.

"The Mujahideen are making these accusations against Iran because of the recent U.S. pressure on them," the Iranian official who declined to be identified said on Friday.

Iran insists its ambitious nuclear program is purely for the peaceful generation of electricity.

A U.S.-led war launched in March against Iran's western neighbor, Iraq, toppled the government of Saddam Hussein. Washington had accused Baghdad of developing banned weapons of mass destruction.