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23 January 2004

U.S. Says Iran Should Return Al Qaeda Members to Country of Origin

White House Report, Jan. 23: Iran, Iraq/Baker/United Nations, Week Ahead

Iran should turn over any suspected al Qaeda members it has in custody to their country of origin, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said January 23, when asked about statements by Iran that it is going to put on trial about a dozen jailed al Qaeda suspects.

"[O]ur position, for a long time, has been that Iran needs to stop supporting terrorism, and any al Qaeda members that they have in custody, they need to turn them over to their country of origin," he said.

A number of countries have approached Iran "asking that al Qaeda rank and file members reportedly under detention be turned over to them, where indictments on terrorism charges are pending," McClellan said. "And the Iranians have continued to ignore those requests."

Iran in the past, he added, has said that it is going to try al Qaeda members in its custody. "This is something they have previously said. We want to see action, and the action we want to see is that they turn over those al Qaeda members in their custody to their country of origin," McClellan repeated, adding that "we want them to live up to their international obligations in the global war on terrorism."

Asked about the U.S. policy towards countries that want to try some of their own citizens now held by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, McClellan responded that the United States is "in discussion with countries about those matters on a case-by-case basis."

He also pointed out that "some of those detainees have been returned to their country of origin." But he said the United States will pursue and bring to justice people involved in carrying out terrorist attacks on the United States.

PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY BAKER MEETS AT WHITE HOUSE WITH BUSH AND RICE

Special Presidential Envoy James Baker briefed National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice at the White House January 23 on his recent visit to four countries in the Middle East to discuss ways to reduce Iraq's debt, and then had luncheon with President Bush, McClellan told reporters.

Baker returned this week from a visit to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, the latest in a series of trips he has taken as the president's representative on this question.

"Baker's trip was very productive, and the President very much appreciates the positive response from all four countries" he visited, McClellan said, adding that the White House appreciates the commitments that have been made by a number of countries, in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, to substantially reduce Iraq's debt burden.

"These countries recognize that that is important to helping the Iraqi people have a successful reconstruction and a brighter future. And as we've said, what constitutes 'specific' is something that will be discussed in further negotiations as we move forward," McClellan said.

"[T]hese countries also agreed that this should happen this year, that it's important to move forward quickly in this respect. And we welcome those comments and we appreciate these countries' commitment to the successful reconstruction of Iraq."

BRAHIMI DISCUSSES U.N.'S ROLE IN IRAQ WITH BUSH ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS

Lakhdar Brahimi, United Nations Special Advisor for Iraq, held discussions at the White House the evening of January 22 about the U.N. role in Iraq with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Ambassador Robert D. Blackwill, McClellan told reporters.

Brahimi also met briefly with President Bush who "thanked him for his work," McClellan said.

The United Nations pulled out of Iraq in October following two bomb attacks that killed 22 staff and visitors, including U.N. mission chief Sergio Vieira de Mello.

The United Nations played a very important role in Iraq before the tragic terrorist attack on its headquarters in Baghdad, McClellan said, "and we have always said they have an important role to play and special expertise they can offer. We are hopeful that they can return to Iraq as soon as possible."

THE WEEK AHEAD

Monday, January 26, President Bush travels to Little Rock, Arkansas to participate in a roundtable with doctors and patients on medical liability;

Tuesday, January 27, President Bush meets in the Cabinet Room at the White House with bipartisan leaders of the House and Senate; later in the day he will meet with the President of Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski, in the Oval Office;

Wednesday, January 28, President Bush will meet with the Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Oval Office;

Thursday, January 29, President Bush will travel to New Hampshire and Connecticut. He will participate in a conversation on the economy in New Hampshire and attend a Bush-Cheney 2003 reception in Greenwich, Connecticut;

Friday, January 30, President Bush will meet with the new NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, in the Oval Office;

Saturday, January 31, President Bush will make remarks at the 2004 'Congress of Tomorrow' luncheon in Philadelphia.

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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