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ordan's King Abdullah is quietly trying to broker a deal that would lead Tehran to surrender about 70 al Qaeda operatives
ordan's King Abdullah is quietly trying to broker a deal that would lead Tehran to surrender about 70 al Qaeda operatives, including the son of Osama bin Laden, in exchange for U.S. action on the largest Iranian opposition group now based in Iraq, according to U.S. and Middle East officials. Abdullah, who is hoping to revive dialogue between the United States and Iran, discussed prospects with the Bush administration during a private visit to Washington on Thursday and Friday. He visited Tehran earlier this fall, the first visit by a Jordanian leader in a quarter-century, the officials said. Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher also traveled to Iran for further talks shortly before the king's U.S. visit. Jordan's effort reflects growing interest in the Middle East in seeing the United States reopen informal talks with Iran, which were suspended after three sessions in Europe earlier this year. During his tour of Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria last week, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was also urged to improve relations with Iran. "Certainly people in the region, including other heads of state, are interested in seeing something happen. It's clear that people in the region would like us to do what we can to establish a better relationship," a senior State Department official said yesterday. The growing interest by Arab countries is a significant shift, given long-standing tension between Arabs and Iran's Persians, and the general fear among secular Arab governments of Iran's Islamic regime. The agreement two weeks ago between the United States and Europeans on Iran's nuclear energy program may improve prospects, Iran experts say. The resolution at the International Atomic Energy Agency avoided a new U.S.-Iran showdown through a compromise that deplores Tehran's past failure to come clean on nuclear enrichment efforts and institutes a fast-track procedure to discuss punitive sanctions at the U.N. Security Council if Iran engages in further violations. A key stumbling block is the People's Mujaheddin, or MEK, about 3,800 Iranians who launched attacks against Iran from camps in Iraq. In 1999, the State Department listed the MEK as a terrorist organization, and since the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the MEK has been confined to camps. "The Mujaheddin-e Khalq is a terrorist organization and will be treated like a terrorist organization," McCormack said. Yet U.S. officials concede that the MEK still broadcasts anti-government programs into Iran and none of its members have been prosecuted or turned over to Iran -- as the United States demands Iran do with al Qaeda suspects. Iran says it is unwilling to cooperate on al Qaeda as long as the United States does not take similar steps on the MEK. U.S. officials counter that many senior MEK officials fled to Europe, particularly France, and those left behind are largely "worker bees" and children. U.S. military officials continue to investigate whether any of the 3,800 should be prosecuted for terrorist acts. The MEK's fate has divided the administration, however, with the State Department pressing the Pentagon to fully disarm the MEK and treat it as a terrorist organization -- rather than as a potential ally.

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