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Iran promises to rescue any U.S. personnel

By BARRY SCHWEID-- The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Iran has assured the United States through Swiss intermediaries that it would try to rescue any American military personnel it found in distress on its territory, a senior U.S. official said Tuesday.

In an unusual diplomatic exchange, the two countries, at odds for more than two decades, offered assurances that they respected each other's territorial integrity, the official said.

The United States and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since Islamic militants overran in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held most of the Americans it took hostage for 444 days.

In recent years, some American diplomats have been looking for signs of change beneath the strict Islamic rule in Iran. After the terrorist attacks Sept. 11 in New York and Washington, the Bush administration sought Iran's support against the al-Qaida network in Afghanistan.

And in developing a policy on a post-Taliban government, officials have said it would have to be acceptable to Iran as well as Pakistan and other neighbors of Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, Philip Reeker, the State Department's deputy spokesman, said, "We appreciated some of the relatively positive statements that have come from the Iranian leadership in the wake of Sept.11, particularly condemning the terrorists acts against the United States."

However, he said, "I would like to stress that our policy toward Iran has not changed."

Rejecting a New York Times report that the administration had set aside its criticism of Iran for supporting Hamas and Hezbollah, Reeker said everything the State Department said over the years in branding Iran a supporter of terrorism "is exactly as that stands."

Earlier in the month, the department again listed the two organizations as terrorist groups.

Reeker also rejected the newspaper's suggestion that the administration, in a sign of movement toward better relations, had for the first time opposed a lawsuit brought against Iran by ex-hostages and their families.

The spokesman said the United States had agreed in the Algiers Accords in 1981 to oppose litigation for compensation -- a special fund was set up to aid the hostages -- and took similar steps in a U.S. court in Washington, D.C., that year.

Still, Iran's message that it would try to rescue distressed Americans ran counter to the often icy rhetoric between the two countries, even though the senior official said it was highly unlikely American personnel would wind up in Iran.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, he described the exchange through Switzerland as civilized and said Iranian officials had told their U.S. counterparts that Iran would act in accordance with international norms.

In a related move, Secretary of State Colin Powell wrote members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to request removal of curbs on U.S. aid to the former Soviet republic Azerbaijan.

Powell said Azerbaijan let the United States use its bases and "critical intelligence" in the campaign against the al-Qaida terrorism network.

Reeker, meanwhile, reaffirmed U.S. support for Israel -- and the Bush administration's determination to push for renewed negotiations with the Arabs that would be based on Israel giving up land in exchange for promises of peace.

Criticism by Arab governments of U.S. policy in the Middle East has coincided with efforts by the administration to enlist them in the campaign against the Taliban, Afghanistan's ruling militia.

"Our goal is to make known the facts about our policy, to make understood what we stand for. And in terms of Israel, our support for our allies is well known and well understood," Reeker said.

On another front, Reeker said the whereabouts of the foreign minister of the Taliban, Maulvi Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, was unknown to the United States.

Responding to reports he was in Pakistan, possibly as a defector and talking to Pakistani officials about a possible deal on Osama bin Laden, Reeker said, "We have no indication that he is there. We have had no contacts with him, nor received any messages from him."

Reeker said that any notion the United States would negotiate with him on a hand-over of the head of the al-Qaida terrorism network has no basis in fact. "The Taliban know what they have to do: deliver bin Laden to justice, dismantle the terrorist networks in the territory they control," he said.

-- Martin Thompson (, October 16, 2001


Whoa!! What did we promise Pakistan to get this kind of loyalty? Pakistan is going to rescue Americans? They hated us just a few weeks ago? " me thinks something smells rotten in Denmark". Strange bedfellows and all that stuff.

-- Judy/W (, October 16, 2001.


Don't you mean IRAN.

-- Martin Thompson (, October 16, 2001.

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