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Britain warns Iran on al Qaeda

Blair: "Real issues on terrorism we have to confront"

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The British government has warned Iran to release any al Qaeda operatives it is harboring, Prime Minister Tony Blair says.

"We have said very clearly to the Iranian government that harboring al Qaeda would be entirely unacceptable," Blair told his monthly televised news conference Thursday. "I hope very much that if they are indeed harboring al Qaeda operatives, that they yield them up."

The United States has stated that there is no doubt Iran is harboring members of the terrorist network, and one government official said that was a factor contributing to Tuesday's hike in the national threat level.

Unlike Washington, Britain has diplomatic relations with Tehran.

When asked if London agreed with the U.S. assessment of al Qaeda operatives in Iran, Blair said the British government is "concerned with these reports."

He added: "These people, as we can see, are dangerous, evil people who are hell-bent on killing as many innocent people as they can.

"And the one thing that is becoming very, very clear right around the world is that it is an unacceptable part of any serious international relations for the future that countries harbor terrorists."

Iran denied Tuesday that it was harboring any al Qaeda operatives, responding to allegations by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other U.S. officials that some members of the terrorist group were using the country as a base for attacks.

U.S. officials said Monday that the U.S. government had been in communication with Iran about the alleged presence of al Qaeda members, making it clear to the nation's Islamic leadership that it must take more steps against terrorism.

Senior U.S. government sources told CNN last week evidence suggested al Qaeda's operations chief was in Iran and may have played a role in planning the Saudi attacks.

Last Thursday, Rumsfeld said, "We know there is senior al Qaeda in Iran."

Senior U.S. officials said al Qaeda operations chief, Saif al-Adel, is one of several al Qaeda leaders believed to be in Iran. One official said al-Adel "may have been a major player" in the Riyadh attacks.

Blair told Thursday's news conference that regime change in other countries following the war in Iraq "is not the issue at the moment".

"There are real concerns -- concerns about North Korea, concerns about Iran -- we are raising those concerns," he said.

He added: "There are issues to do with Iran but we are pursuing in the way that we have indicated.

"In relation to North Korea likewise, where the Americans have, I think, quite successfully started to open up the dialogue ... in order to deal with the issues we have in respect of North Korea.

"But I am not going to get drawn in to speculating what we might and might not do further down the path.

"But I have always said, and I simply repeat, there are real issues to do with terrorism and weapons of mass destruction that we have to confront.

"How we confront them is another matter. There are all sorts of different ways to confront them.

"But we would be very foolish to as a country and as a world if we simply shrugged our shoulders and left hem alone."

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