Iran praises closing of dissidents' office by U.S. State Depart

Sunday, August 17, 2003

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran conferred rare praise on the United States on Saturday when its foreign minister said the State Department's closure of the offices of Iranian dissidents was a "positive" act.

Secretary of State Colin Powell on Friday shut down the Washington offices of the National Council of Resistance of Iran and the Mujahedeen Khalq. The council claims to be an umbrella organization for dissident groups, including the Mujahedeen Khalq.

Mujahedeen Khalq is on the State Department's list of terrorist groups, but the United States allowed the council to operate on their territories with little interference. Following Powell's order, the U.S. Treasury froze the council's nearly $100,000 worth of financial assets in the United States.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi called the U.S. action "a positive step that conforms to its international responsibilities," the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Kharrazi said Washington should have acted sooner against the dissidents as they had long been on terrorism list, the agency said.

Kharrazi said that the head of the dissident group in Iraq was under U.S. control, the agency added. "The onus is on the United States to confront the provocations by the group," the minister said.

The Mujahedeen Khalq, which wages an insurrection against the Iranian government, based its fighters in Iraq and received support from the government of Saddam Hussein, which U.S.-British forces toppled in April. In a standoff after the overthrow of Saddam, the U.S. military briefly bombed the Mujahedeen camps until the group capitulated and agreed to disarm.

In Washington, the U.S. representative of the council, Alireza Jafarzadeh, condemned the closure of his office in the National Press Building. He accused the United States of giving in to demands of the Iranian government.

In July, French police raided the European headquarters of the council outside Paris and arrested 150 people. Most were freed later.

Iran and the United States have had no diplomatic ties since 1979 when Iranian militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took its occupants hostage. Moves toward better relations received a setback last year when President Bush described Iran as part of an "axis of evil," provoking condemnation from Tehran.

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