Iran's true stripes

Last week, Iran appeared to be on the verge of finally taking a step in the right direction when it promised to suspend its uranium-enrichment program and give U.N. inspectors unrestricted access to its nuclear facilities.

That was last week.

This week, the Islamic country squandered any goodwill it might have earned -- and took a huge step backward -- when it rejected a U.S. demand to hand over senior suspected al-Qaida operatives. Iranian officials said the terror suspects would stand trial in Iranian courts.

The United States says this makes it clear that Iran is a supporter of terrorism. That is a logical conclusion considering what we already know about this country.

The United States has accused Iran on several occasions of developing nuclear weapons and harboring al-Qaida fugitives. President Bush included Iran in his axis of evil along with North Korea and prewar Iraq.

The United States has not had diplomatic relations with Iran since Americans were taken hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held for 444 days. Iranian revolutionaries overthrew the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran in 1979 and replaced his government with one controlled by Muslim religious leaders.

Now this.

On Monday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said senior al-Qaida operatives held by Iran should be turned over to their countries of origin or to the United States for interrogation and trial.

This was not an unreasonable request, but Iran's reaction was.

The country claimed that the al-Qaida operatives had committed crimes in Iran and would be tried there. To add salt to the wound, the country's leaders said Powell's request was "irrelevant."

That was not a prudent answer.

Iran has not cultivated an image of a country that can be trusted. So the United States is right to assume that this is a diversionary tactic that really means Iran is harboring terrorists.

It's important that the United States be allowed to question these terrorists. Iran may be harboring some key figures, if U.S. intelligence is on target.

Iran could have avoided this by turning over the al-Qaida operatives it holds. Any crimes they have committed in Iran surely pale in comparison to what they have done elsewhere.

The United States has a growing list of countries that have allied themselves with terrorists. Iran has been on this list for some time. Now it can be underlined in red.