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Annan praises Iran's Afghan aid

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan shakes hands with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan shakes hands with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.  

TEHRAN, Iran -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Saturday that Iran "has no love" for al Qaeda despite reports the country is harboring terrorists.

Annan made the comments during a one-day visit to Iran, part of a tour of the region that also saw him become the first U.N. chief to visit neighboring Afghanistan in 40 years.

Annan praised Iran's support of Afghanistan, helping millions of refugees who have fled the war-torn and famine-ridden country and more recently its pledge of $560 million toward rebuilding the country.

"[Iranians] have no love for al Qaeda and have no ideological, religious or political support for it," Annan said, amid reports in the U.S. that Iran was helping al Qaeda fighters escape.

"It would be odd that suddenly they endorse it."

The United States suspects the al Qaeda terrorist network was behind the September 11 attacks.

Iranian authorities have emphatically denied helping al Qaeda members to escape from Afghanistan or seeking to undermine the interim Afghan government.

Calling such reports "baseless," Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi reiterated that Iran's eastern border was sealed.

"We have closed our border [with Afghanistan] to any movement, we are very serious about that," he added.

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Annan was set to meet Kharrazi, President Mohammad Khatami and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khameini during his trip.

Annan arrived in Iran shortly after demonstrations in Tehran during which Iranian riot police used batons and made arrests.

Teachers were continuing their two-week protest for better pay Saturday amid allegations of state financial mismanagement.

Witnesses said several hundred teachers had gathered close to the president's office but were blocked by police cars and ranks of riot police.

Some protesters remained and were later arrested.

The bulk of the teachers moved toward Tehran University and a separate demonstration involving the relatives of detained liberal dissidents took place outside the U.N.'s offices in Tehran.


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