Former officials say Iran helped on al-Qaida

In an effort to help the United States counter al-Qaida after the 9/11 attack, Iran rounded up hundreds of Arabs who had crossed the border from Afghanistan, expelled many of them and made copies of nearly 300 of their passports, a former Bush administration official said Tuesday.

The copies were sent to Kofi Annan, the U.N. secretary-general, who passed them on to the United States, while U.S. interrogators were given a chance by Iran to question some of the detainees, Hillary Mann Leverett said in an Associated Press interview.

Leverett, who said she negotiated with Iran for the Bush administration in the 2001-3 period, said Iran sought a broader relationship with the United States. “They thought they had been helpful on al-Qaida, and they were,” she said.

For one thing, she said, suspected al-Qaida operatives were not given sanctuary in Iran.

Some administration officials took the view, however, that Iran had not acknowledged all likely al-Qaida members nor provided access to them, Leverett said.

Many of the expelled Arabs were deported to Saudi Arabia and to other Arab and Muslim countries, even though Iran had poor relations with the Saudi monarchy and some other countries in the region, Leverett said.

James F. Dobbins, the Bush administration’s chief negotiator on Afghanistan in late 2001, said that Iran was “comprehensively helpful” in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack in working to overthrow the Taliban and collaborating with the United States in installing the Karzai government in Kabul.

Iranian diplomats made clear at the time they were looking for broader cooperation with the United States, but the Bush administration was not interested, the author of “After the Taliban: Nation-Building in Afghanistan,” said in a separate interview.

The Bush administration has acknowledged contacts with Iran over the years even while denouncing Iran as part of an “axis of evil” and declining to consider a resumption of diplomatic relations.

“It isn’t something that is talked about,” Leverett said in describing Iran’s role during a forum at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan policy institute.

Leverett and her husband, Flynt Leverett, a former career CIA analyst and a former National Security Council official, jointly proposed the next U.S. president seek a “grand bargain” with Iran to settle all major outstanding differences.

“The next president needs to reorient U.S. policy toward Iran as fundamentally as President Nixon did with China in the 1970s,” Flynt Leverett said.

Among the provisions: The United States would clarify that it is not seeking change in the nature of the Iranian regime but rather in its policies, while Iran would agree to “certain limits” on its nuclear program.

Iran considers most of its neighbors as enemies. Among its incentives for improving U.S. relations is that they feel that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia would be less provocative, the Leveretts said
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