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Iran, U.S. spar over Saudi bombing, terrorism

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August 4, 1996
Web posted at: 3:15 p.m. EDT (1915 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The fallout continued Sunday from U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry's speculation that Iran may have been behind the June 25 truck bombing that killed 19 U.S. airmen in Saudi Arabia.

Perry said during an interview Friday with National Public Radio that he anticipated the Saudi probe into the bombing would uncover an international link, and that Iran was the "leading candidate" among countries that would commit terrorist acts against the U.S.

Iran reacted sharply, calling Perry's statements "irresponsible."

"After each of these incidents, with great deal of certainty, fingers are pointed at Iran," Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said on CNN. "After a while it turns out those fingers were pointed for political reasons and for political reasons only."

sound icon Iran sent a letter to the United Nations Sunday protesting statements by Perry and House Speaker Newt Gingrich threatening retaliations should another country be found to have connections to the bombing of the Khobar Towers military housing unit. The threats, the letter said, were "an arrogant and callous disregard" for the principles of international law. (381K AIFF or WAV sound)

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Gingrich continued to lean on Iran on Sunday, telling CNN that "international terrorism is almost entirely subsidized by Iran."

sound icon "If it turns out that they killed Americans, whether they are in uniform or out of uniform, whether they are in a airliner or they are in a military base, that would normally be regarded as an act of war," Gingrich said.(445K AIFF or WAV sound)

sound icon Iran "categorically rejects" terrorism, Zarif said. But the minister did acknowledge that Iran considers the U.S. presence in the Persian Gulf "destabilizing." (445K AIFF or WAV sound)

sound icon Zarif said the policy of first blaming Iran for terrorist acts delayed the fight against the real terrorists, and he called for "serious international cooperation" to combat terrorism. Zarif denied that Iran had any part in the June truck bombing or "any other terrorist incident." (445K AIFF or WAV sound)

But USA Today reported Saturday that U.S. intelligence had gathered evidence of a network of 11 terrorist training camps inside Iran, including a bomb training site in eastern Tehran. Gingrich told CNN Sunday that such training centers should be made "untenable."

"Ideally we would go to the United Nations, present the evidence that these are terrorist camps, insist that there be international inspectors to close down the camps," Gingrich said. And if that doesn't work, "there are a number of military means capable for closing them down."

Iranian officials denied that the camps exist, saying that reports of such camp are "propaganda" first put forward by Israel.

"This is a propaganda campaign by the same people willing to bet Iran was behind every terrorist incident in the world," said Zarif.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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