Iran rejects US 'meddling'

Iran called on the United States Tuesday to refrain from interfering in its internal affairs and said it would be ready to defend itself.

    US cannot rely on popular dissent
    to subvert Iranian government

    "We hope that wisdom and logic dominates the American debates and they refrain from carrying out any interference in our affairs," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi.


    "Iran has always defended its interests with full power and will continue to do so. It won't hesitate even for a fraction of a moment to defend itself," he said without elaborating.


    Iran's comments came shortly before US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned that any effort to recast Iraq in Iran's image "will be aggressively put down".


    The harsh verbal exchange occurred against a backdrop of increasing US pressure on Iran. Two days ago the Washington Post reported that Pentagon officials are pressing for a policy they believe could subvert the country's Islamic democracy.


    It was not clear what actions the Pentagon was suggesting to destabilise the Iranian establishment. One proposal was to use popular uprisings. 


    Other US officials said the United States could support exiled opposition groups, such as the Iraq-based People’s Mujahideen militia and Reza Pahlavi, the eldest son of Iran’s late shah.


    Sheltering Al-Qaeda


    Washington has also accused the Islamic Republic of sheltering Al-Qaeda members and developing a nuclear weapons programme.


    The US said Tuesday that Tehran's arrests of Al-Qaeda members fell short of the total crackdown it had demanded. 


    US officials say they have intelligence suggesting senior Al-Qaeda members hiding in Iran had prior knowledge of the 12 May human bombings in Saudi Arabia which killed 34 people, including eight Americans.


    "We continue to have concerns with Al-Qaeda being in Iran,"  said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. Iran had responded "insufficiently" to US concerns, he added.


    Saudi Arabia also raised the pressure on Tehran by saying it hoped  its northern neighbour would hand over any Saudi nationals found among a group of alleged Al-Qaeda members arrested this week.


    "We hope that if there are any Saudis there they would cooperate and we have an agreement with Iran in this fashion", Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said.


    Tehran says the men are all low-level operatives.


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