WASHINGTON – Sixteen suspected al-Qaida fighters who fled Afghanistan were handed over by Iran to Saudi Arabia, which is interrogating them, the Saudi foreign minister said Sunday.
“The innocent will be let go, and the guilty ones will be incarcerated and go to trial,” Prince Saud al-Faisal said. Iran “cooperated with us” in handing them over, he said, but declined to speculate on whether that reflects improved U.S.-Iran relations.
Saud said on ABC’s This Week that Iran’s “cooperation with us has been very important and very significant in fighting the terrorists.”
He said in a Washington Post interview published Sunday that information obtained from the captives was being made available to the United States.
Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah’s foreign policy adviser, Adel Al-Jubeir, said on NBC’s Meet the Press that for “those that deserve punishment … the punishment will be severe.”
On another subject, the foreign minister reiterated that Saudi Arabia would not allow the use of Saudi soil in a U.S. attack on Iraq. The United States should “give a diplomatic solution a chance before going to war,” the prince said.
“We see there is movement on the diplomatic front on this issue,” he said without elaboration.
“There is no proof there is a threat imminent from Iraq,” Saud said in explaining his country’s refusal to allow the United States to use his country in such an attack.
The 16 suspected al-Qaida fighters are reportedly Saudi citizens. The prince said they were turned over in June. About the same time, Iranian officials said publicly that Iran was returning any captured al-Qaida operatives to their home countries.
President Bush has labeled Iran, Iraq and North Korea part of an “axis of evil” that threatens global stability.
Sen. Fred Thompson, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that despite the latest developments “Iran’s track record [on terrorism] is not very good.”
Iran in the past “has cooperated with and assisted” al-Qaida, Thompson, R-Tenn., told Fox News Sunday.
The decision to turn over suspected al-Qaida members to Saudi Arabia “serves the purpose of the Saudis and also the Iranians,” he said.
Thompson characterized Saudi Arabia’s reluctance to support action against Iraq as “self-preservation” to blunt criticism from the religious extremists within Saudi Arabia.
He called U.S.-Saudi relations “a marriage of convenience” because “they need us and we need them.”
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