Iran: U.S., Israel Waging Smear Campaign

By ALI AKBAR DAREINI, Associated Press Writer 2 hours, 11 minutes ago

TEHRAN, Iran - Iran accused the U.S. and Israel on Sunday of a smear campaign against its president-elect and warned Europe, which is in tricky nuclear negotiations with Tehran, not to join in the mudslinging.

The ultraconservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who won a landslide presidential election victory, has been accused of taking American hostages in 1979 when radical students seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Iranian exiles and an Austrian politician are alleging he was involved in the 1989 slaying of a Kurdish leader and two associates in Vienna.

Iranian officials have denied both allegations.

"The charges are so evidently false that they don't deserve an answer. It's clear that it's mere lies," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said Sunday at a news conference in Tehran.

"Europeans should show their political maturity and not intertwine their interests with those of the Americans. They are advised to seriously avoid interference in this issue," Asefi warned. "We advise the Europeans not to fall into the trap of the Zionist media."

The Iranian warning came as France, Germany and Britain lead European Union efforts to persuade Tehran to permanently halt nuclear enrichment activities, which the United States claims are part of Iran's plan to develop a nuclear arsenal.

Iran rejects the U.S. claims and insists it is pursuing nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, such as generating power. Uranium enriched to low levels can be used for energy while highly enriched uranium can be used in bombs.

President Bush has said the claims swirling around Ahmadinejad are not his primary concern and he instead wants the Europeans to make clear to the new leader that a nuclear-armed Iran will not be tolerated.

Israel's ambassador to Washington, Daniel Ayalon, said Monday that Ahmadinejad was more extreme than his rivals. He insisted Iran must be stopped from developing nuclear weapons, a task that he said should be assigned to the U.N. Security Council.

The Europeans are offering economic incentives in hopes of persuading Iran to permanently freeze its enrichment program on its own to avoid U.N. intervention and possible sanctions.

Ahmadinejad, the former mayor of Tehran, has said Iran will not curtail its nuclear program and will restart uranium enrichment activities, which it voluntarily suspended in November as part of negotiations with the Europeans.

Asefi said the wave of allegations against Ahmadinejad was an expression of disappointment over the June 24 presidential runoff vote. Ahmadinejad defeated former President Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was perceived as more moderate.

"That the result of the election was not predictable for them should not serve as a reason not to accept it," the spokesman said. "We can't dissolve the whole nation and create another nation to follow their wish."

In 1979, Ahmadinejad was a member of the Office of Strengthening Unity, the student organization that planned the Tehran Embassy takeover. Six former hostages who saw the president-elect in a 1979 photo or on television said they believe Ahmadinejad was among the captors who held them for 444 days and one said he was interrogated by the new president.

Ahmadinejad has denied he was one of the hostage takers.

On Saturday, Saeed Hajjarian, a top former secret agent and a senior adviser to outgoing reformist President Mohammad Khatami, also denied the allegation and identified the captor in the pictures as a former militant who committed suicide in prison years ago.

A different set of allegations against Ahmadinejad emerged on Saturday in Austria. The newspaper Der Standard quoted a top official in Austria's Green Party as saying authorities have "very convincing" evidence linking Ahmadinejad to the 1989 slaying of Abdul-Rahman Ghassemlou, an Iranian opposition Kurdish leader, in Vienna. Exiled Iranian dissidents made the same accusations.

But Hajjarian denied those allegations as well.

"I'm opposed to Ahmadinejad's policies and thinking but he was not involved in the hostage drama nor in the assassination of an Iranian opposition Kurdish leader in Vienna," Hajjarian told The Associated Press on Saturday.

Though Hajjarian said the president-elect was not involved in either incident, he has been at loggerheads with the hard-line Ahmadinejad and did accuse him of financial wrongdoing while previously serving as governor of Ardabil province in northwestern Iran before he was mayor of Tehran. No official charges have been brought against Ahmadinejad.

Mohammad Reza Bahonar, a senior hard-liner close to Ahmadinejad, publicly acknowledged this week that Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi had opposed Ahmadinejad's appointment as Tehran mayor because there was a "dossier" against him. But he did not explain the nature of the case.