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WAR ON TERRORISM Rumsfeld says Iran helped Al-Qaida flee



Published: Mon, February 4, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The secretary of defense wouldn't reveal what, if any, response the United States is planning.

COMBINED DISPATCHES

WASHINGTON -- In pointed remarks that raised questions Sunday about future relations between the elected Iranian regime and the United States, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld accused the government in Tehran of helping Taliban and Al-Qaida fighters flee Afghanistan.

Asked on ABC-TV's "This Week" if he could confirm a Time magazine report that Iran had aided Islamic militants escaping across the Afghan border, Rumsfeld replied: "I can.

"We have any number of reports that Iran has been permissive and allowed transit through their country of Al-Qaida," he said. "There isn't any doubt in my mind but that the porous border between Iran and Afghanistan has been used for Al-Qaida and Taliban to move into Iran and find refuge, and that the Iranians have not done what the Pakistan government has done, [which is to] put troops along the border and prevent terrorists from escaping out of Afghanistan into their country."

Asked if the United States planned any response to Iran's actions, Rumsfeld said, "We don't announce things we're going to do before we do them."

Last week, in his State of the Union address, President Bush described Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "axis of evil" bent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

Reaction: Russia's defense minister said Sunday that his country disagrees with the U.S. view of the three countries as an "axis of evil," a stark reminder that differences remain between two once-bitter enemies who have moved closer together since Sept. 11.

Foreign Minister Sergei Ivanov told a global conference of government and military leaders in Munich that he sees no evidence that any of the three nations supports terrorism and insisted that any move against them must follow international law.

China's official Xinhua news agency also weighed in Sunday on Bush's choice of words, accusing the president of orchestrating public opinion in advance of possible strikes against the three countries in an expansion of the war against terrorism.

The word "axis" suggested an alliance that doesn't exist, the Chinese agency said. What the three states do share, it went on, is chilly relations with the United States.

Italian Defense Minister Antonio Martino, meanwhile, said Sunday that his country would not support an attack on Iraq without "proven proof" that Baghdad is supporting Al-Qaida, and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein dispatched a delegation to meet with European Union leaders in Spain.

Ivanov said the West uses a double standard in its definition of terrorism, asking why members of Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaida network are terrorists, but not Chechen separatists fighting Russia.

"Well, we don't like some of your allies like Saudi Arabia or Gulf states who give finance to terrorism organizations," Ivanov said.

Reporter: Meanwhile, Pakistani police searching for kidnapped Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl widened their investigation to include Karachi's notorious criminal gangs and to other regions of the country, as leads into Islamic extremist groups began to run dry.

Twelve days after Pearl's abduction, his fate remained unclear today. The investigation has been complicated because of several e-mails purportedly from the kidnappers which police now believe were hoaxes. Late Sunday, police searched an eastern Karachi neighborhood from which e-mails believed genuine may have been sent.

The discovery in Karachi of the body of a light-skinned man in his late 30s led to initial media reports Sunday that it was Pearl's, but police said the corpse was that of an Iranian.

"We continue to believe that Danny is alive," said Steve Goldstein, a vice president of Dow Jones & amp; Co., the Journal's owner.

Investigators still consider Islamic extremists, especially Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, as the most likely suspects in Pearl's Jan. 23 abduction.

Syed Kamal Shah, the police chief here in Sindh province, said today the investigation has expanded to other provinces. But that "does not necessarily mean that the kidnappers are hiding him in Punjab, Peshawar or Quetta," Shah said.

Pearl, 38, the Journal's South Asian bureau chief, was working on a story about Islamic fundamentalists and was trying to arrange an interview with the leader of a small militant group, Sheik Mubarak Ali Shah Gilani.

Warlords cease fire: In Gardez, Afghanistan, Afghan and United Nations mediators, joined by American officials, on Sunday extracted a conditional cease-fire agreement from two rival tribal warlords in an eastern Afghan town that was rocked by two days of fighting last week.

With factional fighting threatening government efforts to assert control throughout the country, the delegation hopes to avert more tribal clashes in Gardez, a town of about 40,000 people that is the capital of Paktia, a strategic border province. U.S. forces want to ensure that Al-Qaida fugitives cannot flee through Paktia's border passes into neighboring Pakistan.

On Wednesday and Thursday, soldiers for warlord Bacha Khan exchanged artillery fire with forces loyal to Haji Saifullah, leader of Gardez's tribal council, or shura, which bitterly opposes Khan's appointment as provincial governor. At least 61 people were killed.

Just before meeting the mediators, Khan said he was ready to fight on to assert his rights as governor -- an appointment that was initially self-declared, but later sanctioned by the government of interim leader Hamid Karzai.

"I am officially the governor of Gardez. I am ready for more fighting," Khan said, gesturing toward 200 of his soldiers standing near a mud-walled outpost outside of Gardez, where the delegation traveled to meet him.

"You can see my fighters."

Shura leaders say Khan is corrupt and brutal and have appealed for another governor.




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