Official: U.S. to consider destabilizing Iran
Tehran: Washington falsely accused it of harboring terrorists
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration is considering taking a hard-line approach toward the government of Iran that could include efforts to destabilize Tehran's Islamic regime, a State Department official told CNN on Sunday.
Senior Bush administration officials, including the deputy secretaries of defense and state, are scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss Iran, the official said.
Iranian officials said Sunday that the United States has cut off discussions with the Tehran government that encompassed a range of issues, levying what the Iranians called false accusations that Iran provided a haven for al Qaeda members.
Last week, a Bush administration official told CNN that Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan, met with Iranian officials Thursday in Geneva, Switzerland. During the meeting, the official said, the Iranians said they had several al Qaeda operatives in custody, including one who might have coordinated the recent terrorist bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
The United States had planned to send its own representative to the meeting, but canceled "because of concerns of an al Qaeda link," the U.S. official said.
"We know al Qaeda individuals are inside Iran," the official said. "But what is the definition of custody? If they are in Iran, free to plan and direct attacks, such as the Saudi bombings, and are able to receive visitors and updates and other information, that is not custody. That is safe haven."
The United States has been increasing pressure on Iran with a series of public comments and steps that might be designed to force better cooperation from the Islamic state on matters of terrorism and the development of nuclear weapons.
A senior defense official told CNN on Sunday that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld believes Iran's Islamic regime shows "great potential for the government to crumble from within" and that others in the administration might advocate undertaking an effort to encourage internal upheaval.
At the root of the current tension between the United States and Iran is the alleged presence of members of al Qaeda in Iran and assistance to organizations such as Hezbollah -- a militant group dedicated to driving U.S. and Israeli forces out of Lebanon, which Washington considers a terrorist group.
A State Department official cautioned that, though members of al Qaeda are believed to be in Iran, it is "not clear" how senior they are. If senior al Qaeda leaders are in Iran, the Iranian government might not know it, the official said.
But Rumsfeld said last week it was "a fact" that "they have senior al Qaeda in Iran."
Javad Zarif, the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, said Sunday that Iran has been "extremely active" in cracking down on al Qaeda, saying some of its members face trial there.
"The allegations that the United States has leveled against Iran are not new," Zarif said on ABC's "This Week."
"These have continued for a long time, and these are mere allegations and they can be discussed in a very serious fashion."
He added: "If the United States only wants to speak through the language of pressure, then Iran would resist."
Also at issue is Iran's alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons.
"Iran is one of the countries that is -- in our view -- assessed as developing a nuclear capability, and that's unfortunate," Rumsfeld said Wednesday.
A senior defense official told CNN on Sunday that U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted communications before and after the bombings in Saudi Arabia that indicate al Qaeda operatives are being provided haven in Iran and that they might have been behind the bombings at three civilian housing complexes in Riyadh.
The bombings killed 25 people, including eight Americans, as well as nine bombers May 12. Hundreds more were wounded. (Full story)
Iran became an Islamic state in 1979 when Iranian fundamentalists overthrew Shah Reza Palavi and installed religious leadership. They also took and held hostage 52 U.S. Embassy personnel in Tehran for more than a year.
The State Department released a statement Sunday that said, in part, "We have made it clear to Iran as recently as this week that we believe al Qaeda operatives are working out of Iran and that Iran needs to meet their international responsibilities" in handing over terrorists.
A senior defense official said there were indications last week that Iran might be willing to hand over al Qaeda operatives now in Iran to the government of Saudi Arabia, but that no further progress had been made on that front.