"Iran ready to extradite some of 130 al-Qaeda"
December 11, 2003
GENEVA, Dec 11, (AFP) -- Iran has arrested 130 suspected members of the al-Qaeda network and is ready to extradite some of them, President Mohammad Khatami said.
"Those who have committed crimes in Iran will be judged in Iran and the others will be extradited to their country of origin," he said through an interpreter during a news conference here.
"There is no place for al-Qaeda, no place for any terrorist, for those who act against peace in the world," he added.
Khatami said al-Qaeda was "very hostile" to the Iranian regime.
The United States has asked Tehran several times to extradite members of the terror group on its territory, most recently on Monday.
"We believe Iran should turn over all suspected al-Qaeda operatives to the United States or to countries of origin or third countries for further interrogation and trial," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington.
The US stressed that it was not discussing a swap of Iranian opposition People's Mujahadin members held by US forces in Iraq in return for al-Qaeda operatives held in Iran.
Khatami said Iran was ready to welcome opposition fighters who "are in Iraq and regret" past acts.
"We will welcome them and judge them according to the law," he said.
Reports over the weekend said Jordan's King Abdullah II was quietly trying to broker a deal between the United States and Iran on the prisoners.
Khatami also insisted that his country would not make nuclear weapons, and he told Muslims they should embrace western democracy.
Launching an urgent appeal for dialogue between Islam and Christianity, Khatami told an audience at the World Council of Churches (WCC) that Iran's dominant Islamic faith ruled out the use of nuclear weapons.
"We cannot seek nuclear weapons because of our religious faith, I told our religious leaders," he said, speaking through an interpreter.
"The Islam that I know does not allow the use of nuclear weapons, then we cannot go ahead and manufacture them," the Iranian president added in response to questions.
Khatami's comments came a day after Iran said it had given the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) the formal go-ahead to carry out more intrusive inspections of its suspect nuclear programme.
The United States has voiced concern that the Islamic republic is using a civil atomic energy programme as a cover for secret nuclear weapons development.
During his address to a seminar on religious tolerance organised by the WCC, which groups the world's Christian and Orthodox faiths with the exception of the Roman Catholic Church, Khatami also gave an unusually frank endorsement of western democracy.
"I think democracy is the only alternative, we can take it as Muslims," he said.
"We must accept this has been materialised in the West, we must accept this as Muslims," Khatami, an Islamic scholar added, warning that the alternative was authoritarian and despotic rule.
Iran had problems, the president admitted, "we have violations of human rights, we know these are going on", although he claimed the country had the most democratic system in the region.
Khatami's principal speech focused on a plea for religious tolerance, warning that the shared values of faith and religion had been eroded worldwide by bigotry as well as by anti-religious sentiment.
"The dialogue between civilisations, but also the dialogue between religions, in particular between Islam and Christianity are a vital, imperative and unavoidable necessity."
"I have to add in this respect that unfortunately those with power in this world, instead of reducing and removing the misunderstandings, are contributing to their revival," he added.
Iran's president also responded to a question about the impact of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, pointing out that the 20th century had been marked by unprecedented wars and violence, including the "ugly face of terrorism".
"It showed its ugliest face in the cities of New York and Washington in September 2001," he added.
The Iranian leader, seen as a reformist figure in the Islamic state, was in Geneva primarily to attend a UN conference on the impact and development of information technology.
The digital boom had increased the ability to communicate, but was not able to overcome a gulf in understanding, he cautioned.
"We must note that in our global village, we are unable to understand each other," Khatami observed. http://www.iranmania.com/News/ArticleView/Default.asp?NewsCode=20564&NewsKind=Current%20Affairs