LOS ANGELES (UPI) — Iranian leaders are seeking to discredit the popular student protest movement in their country by claiming it has been masterminded by an exiled opposition group accused by Tehran of terrorist activities.

Following the continuous unrest in Tehran and some other cities in Iran, the Iranian Students News Agency reported this summer that 80 students had been detained by authorities, 32 of them from Tehran. Gholam Reza Zarifian, Deputy Science Minister, told reporters: “There were some suspicions on the current events and about the organizers of the unrest.” He added that the Iranian Intelligence service ministry was investigating the issue, ISNA said.

The Iranian media has been energetically pursuing this theme. In June, Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Tehran’s chief prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi as saying that some of the people arrested during the recent unrest in Tehran and other cities were members of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization. Mortazavi said most of the detainees were “thugs and hooligans as well as culprits (who) hold records for repeated offenses’,” IRNA reported. IRNA described the MKO as a terrorist group that was based in Iraq during the Baath regime of former president Saddam Hussein. It said the U.S. military had arranged a cease-fire with the group and added: “Tehran has been following Washington’s interaction with MKO since then.”

ISNA, commenting on the current state of Iran-U.S. relations wrote: “For many months the Bush administration has been facing the problem of how to treat the Islamic Republic of Iran. It has been considering whether to initiate military action against Iran or put more diplomatic pressure on her; whether to start a new dialogue with Iranian reformers or to strengthen the Islamic Republic’s enemies.”

The agency quoted Newsweek magazine as saying that President George W. Bush had supported the unrest in Iran and had warned Iranian officials to treat the detainees respectfully. ISNA added that what the United States was doing was to help the reform wing in Iran.

However, Iranian reformers did not want U.S. intervention on their side, the agency reported. It quoted Behzad Nabavi, Iranian Parliament’s vice president, as saying: “U.S. interference will only help the conservatives in Iran.”

Iranian Defense Minister Rear Adm. Ali Shamkhani also complained about U.S. policy towards Iran, describing it as an “approach of threat and concessions (seeking) to force Tehran accept its illegitimate demands.” Shamkhani said Iran’s response to this U.S. initiative would be a “deterrent confrontation,” and stressed that Iran could not be addressed in the language of coercion, IRNA reported.

The same day, the Tehran daily newspaper Ettela’at also quoted Shamkhani as claiming: “U.S. accusations on Iran are baseless and al Qaeda had been facilitated and supported politically and financially by the United States.”

Iranian officials have also been emphasizing their commitment to cracking down on the al Qaeda terrorist organization in their country and cooperating with other nations in moves against it. Iranian Government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh said that they were identified as al Qaeda members, IRNA reported June 23.

“If those identified turn out to have the nationality of friendly countries, we will hand them over to their country of origin, but if they are found committing a crime in Iran, they will undergo the trial here,” Ramezanzadeh said. He also said that Iranian courts would decide the fate of those who were citizens of countries with whom Iran had no diplomatic relations.

The Iranian media also reported Tehran’s diplomatic reaction to recent critical statements about their country from the U.S. and British governments. IRNA reported that British Ambassador to Iran Richard John Dalton was summoned to the Iranian Foreign Ministry this summer to receive a protest over Prime Minister Tony Blair’s alleged anti-Iranian statement in the House of Commons. Iranian officials described it as more “interference in Iran’s internal affairs.”

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi described Blair’s statements as “irresponsible” and “outside the norms of mutual understanding and respect,” IRNA reported. Blair had said in the House of Commons that the student demonstrations in Iran deserve “our support.”

IRNA reported that the British ambassador, in response, said Britain was willing to maintain its past policies towards Iran and promised to convey the protest to his government.

”’Mojdeh Sionit is a former Iranian journalist now resident in the United States.”’

Copyright 2003 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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