Iran Denies U.S. Charge That It Is Arming Terrorists in Iraq

Published February 13, 2007

| Associated Press

Iran on Monday rejected U.S. accusations that the highest levels of Iranian leadership have armed Shiite militants in Iraq with armor-piercing roadside bombs, a day after U.S. military officials in Baghdad said they had traced the weapons to Tehran.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a televised interview aired Monday that his country was opposed to conflict and bloodshed in Iraq and that problems in Iraq should be solved with dialogue, not the use of force.

"There should be a court to prove the case and to verify the case. The position of our government ... is also the same. We are opposed to any kind of conflict in Iraq," Ahmadinejad to ABC's "Good Morning America."

The deadly and highly sophisticated weapons are known as "explosively formed penetrators," or EFPs, which have killed more than 170 troops from the American-led coalition. Three senior U.S. military officials in Baghdad said the "machining process" used in the construction of the deadly bombs had been traced to Iran.

But Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said Iran's top leaders were not intervening in Iraq and considered "any intervention in Iraq's internal affairs as a weakening of the popular Iraqi government, and we are opposed to that."

"Such accusations cannot be relied upon or be presented as evidence. The United States has a long history in fabricating evidence. Such charges are unacceptable," Hosseini told reporters in Tehran.

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The U.S. military presentation in Baghdad on Sunday was the result of weeks of preparation and revisions as U.S. officials put together a package of material to support the Bush administration's claims of Iranian intercession on behalf of militant Iraqis fighting American forces.

The experts, who spoke to a large gathering of reporters on condition that they not be further identified, said the supply trail began with Iran's Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, which also is accused of arming the Hezbollah guerrilla army in Lebanon. The officials said the EFP weapon was first tested there.

The U.S. officials in Baghdad claimed the EFPs, as well as Iranian-made mortar shells and rocket-propelled grenades, have been supplied to "rogue elements" of the Mahdi Army militia of anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who is a key backer of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Many key government figures and members of Iraq's Shiite political leadership have deep ties to Iran, having spent decades there in exile during Saddam Hussein's rule. But Iran has repeatedly denied that it has armed the Shiite militias in the neighboring country.

Ahmadinejad said Iraq's lack of security also was a "disadvantage" to Iran.

"Our position regarding Iraq is very clear. We are asking for peace. We're asking for security. And we will be sad to see people get killed, no matter who they are," he told ABC.

In Tehran, Hosseini also addressed another contentious issue between his country and Washington -- Iran's nuclear program.

The Foreign Ministry spokesman said Iran was ready to negotiate with the international community but would not agree to the precondition that it suspend uranium enrichment first.

Ahmadinejad on Sunday also vowed to continue moving forward with enrichment but -- in a softening of his usual fiery rhetoric -- said Tehran was open to dialogue.

The U.S. and its allies accuse Iran of secretly developing atomic weapons, but Iran has repeatedly denied the charges, saying its program is solely for peaceful purposes.

In December, the U.N. Security Council imposed limited sanctions on Iran over its refusal to roll back its nuclear program and suspend uranium enrichment. Iran faces further sanctions later this month if it does not halt enrichment.

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