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Sources: U.S. to accuse Iran of sponsoring terrorism

Bomb remains
Remains of the military apartment building in Saudi Arabia  
In this story: April 7, 1998
Web posted at: 9:37 p.m. EDT (0137 GMT)

From World Affairs Correspondent Ralph Begleiter

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Despite a modest thaw in relations between the United States and Iran, CNN has learned that the U.S. government is preparing to level new accusations against Iran for its support of international terrorism.

Sources say the Clinton administration will soon accuse the Iranian government of being the world's "most active state sponsor of terrorism."

A U.S. government expert says Iran "continues to be involved in the planning and execution of terrorist acts," and the United States accuses Iran of carrying out "at least 13" political assassination attempts last year.

Despite the election of the relatively moderate cleric Mohammad Khatami as president last year, the expert also says the Iranian government continues:

  • Tracking and plotting to kill exiles who oppose Islamic leaders in Teheran.

  • Calling for the death of British author Salman Rushdie for his writings about Islam.

  • Supporting Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon.

  • Backing the Palestinian Muslim militants in Hamas who have staged several terrorist bombing attacks in Israel in recent years.

Iran is also a suspect in the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia where U.S. military personnel were staying.

Administration divided on Iran policy

Khatami
Khatami  

As a result, says U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, "It is only prudent and responsible that as we look towards what they are doing and whether they are changing their actions, for us to be studying very carefully what they are doing."

Sources tell CNN that there is a battle going on in the Clinton administration over how to deal with Iran's new government.

In January, Khatami told CNN he welcomed exchanges between the two countries, and the Iranian wrestling team arrived in Washington Monday to do some sightseeing after going to the World Freestyle Wrestling Championships in Stillwater, Oklahoma, last weekend.

However, the wrestlers' first experience left Iran's foreign minister wondering whether there had, indeed, been a thaw.

When the wrestlers arrived in Chicago last week, they were fingerprinted and photographed by U.S. immigration officials as required by U.S. law. Thaw or not, officially Iran is still considered to be on unfriendly terms with the U.S.

However, a State Department spokesman hastened to reassure the Iranians that they were welcome, and that the U.S. still welcomes such exchanges.

The U.S. wrestling team was warmly greeted by Iranian fans attending a competition in Iran last month. They were the first American athletes to visit Iran since relations were severed after Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979.

Ayatollah controls foreign policy

Nejad-Hosseinian
Nejad-Hosseinian  

In another sign that relations are thawing, Iran's new ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammad Hadi Nejad-Hosseinian was allowed to travel to Southern California last week.

But he took a cautious view of the situation.

"The tone of some United States officials towards Iran has changed positively in certain limited instances," he said. "However, on a practical level, and with the exception of some minor steps, the United States' policy remains stagnant."

Despite Khatami's overtures, it is the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who controls foreign policy in Iran, and has continued to refer to the United States as "the enemy of the Islamic Republic."

As a result, U.S. officials are torn by conflicting policy goals. They want to end two decades of estrangement with a major power in the Persian Gulf, but they are also intent on combating international terrorism.

 
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