Khatami: faced increased public 
US criticism in recent days

Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh told reporters that “we have said so many times, and even the US knows, that we are massively combating all sorts of al-Qaeda presence in our country”.

He added the Iranian government had been fighting al-Qaeda and Taliban elements even at a time when the US had supported them.

According to the USA Today newspaper, another Iranian diplomat said his country was angry over US failure to disarm an Iranian opposition group based in Iraq, the Mujahedin-e Khalq, that is on a US State Department list of terrorist groups.

"Our information is that you have not disarmed the Mujahedin, and it is the height of hypocrisy for the United States to be criticizing Iran, which has captured more al-Qaeda than any other country," said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity and was quoted in the same newspaper.

Allegation

Rumsfeld raises State Department concerns

American criticism of Iran began with US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Tuesday, who said that al-Qaeda leaders were ‘busy’ in Iran, amid US speculation that they may have directed last week’s deadly bombings in Saudi Arabia.

Later, US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher called on Iran to meet its international responsibility to deny safe haven to those who plan, support and commit terrorist acts - quoting mainly from United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373.

“Whether they’re there with permission, not with permission or what, it’s the responsibility of the government to prevent those kind of people from coming to their country,” he said.

Boucher added that the US will “continue to pursue those issues in a variety of ways with the government of Iran and with all government around the world.”

No details or meetings

But he declined to name the operatives that America claims are based inside Iran, though a Washington Post article last Sunday speculated that the Egyptian, Said al-Adil, a top al-Qaeda military commander, may be in the Islamic republic.

White House officials told the Los Angeles Times that the United States cancelled a meeting scheduled in Geneva on Wednesday because of American allegations that Iran is harbouring al-Qaeda members.

However, it also quoted a senior Iranian diplomat who said the cancellation was mutually agreed upon.