Monday, August 09, 2004 Iran says working around the clock to free diplomat abducted in Iraq "Iran says working around the clock to free diplomat abducted in Iraq

TEHRAN : The Iranian government said it was working around the clock to secure the release of one of its diplomats kidnapped in Iraq, but said it believed he was "alive and well".

"We have to find out more about the group that is holding him. We are just trying to find ways to negotiate and to get him out," Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi said.

"What we do know is that he is alive and well," said Kharazi, speaking at a press conference with his visiting Pakistani counterpart Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri. "We are working on this matter hour by hour."

A statement Sunday by a group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq said it had "detained" Fereydun Jahani "for stirring sectarian strife and for activities outside his diplomatic duties".

Jahani disappeared on Wednesday as he was travelling to the central Iraqi city of Karbala to open an Iranian consulate, embassy charge d'affaires Hassan Kazemi Ghomi told AFP.

In Baghdad, Ghomi told AFP Monday that the embassy was still in the dark.

"We have had no demand and we have no news" of Jahani, he said.

A group with the same name kidnapped two Pakistanis in Iraq last month and subsequently executed them for cooperating with the US-led multinational forces in the country.

Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television Sunday broadcast the statement and showed pictures of the diplomat's passport, identity and business cards along with what appeared to be footage of him speaking, without sound, against a black backdrop.

Some of the documents bore the logo of the elite Revolutionary Guards, the militant ideological spearhead of the Islamic Republic which has previously been accused of interfering in the affairs of neighbouring Iraq.

But Iranian government spokesman Abdollah Ramazanzadeh asserted that "Jahani is a long-time employee of the foreign ministry", and quipped that "it is easy nowadays to produce" forged identity cards.

When asked if Iran would downgrade its diplomatic presence in Iraq, Ramazanzadeh replied that "nothing has yet been decided".

A police official at Karbala said Jahani had been seized at Latifiyah, south of Baghdad, in an area notorious for hostage-taking and violence.

"We have had no contacts with the Iranian embassy in Baghdad and the Iranians have lodged no complaint at the Karbala court," he added.

Jahani's disappearance comes amid a growing war of words between Iraq and Iran, which intensified on Sunday when a spokesman for Kharazi's ministry said Tehran was not prepared to discuss serious issues with Baghdad's interim authorities.

Speaking before news of the kidnapping, the spokesman also said the ministry was summoning Iraq's top diplomat in Tehran over claims that four Iranian spies have been arrested in Baghdad and demanding proof of the allegations.

Iran has yet to formally recognise the Iraqi interim government, which has been described by Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as "lackeys" of the Americans.

Khamenei last month also voiced suspicion that US and Israeli "agents" have been behind the wave of kidnappings in Iraq.

Tensions have further mounted since Iraqi Defence Minister Hazem al-Shaalan told The Washington Post last month he had seen "clear interference in Iraqi issues by Iran" and accused Tehran of taking over some Iraqi border posts and sending spies and saboteurs into Iraq.

Shaalan repeated his accusations Monday, saying Iran was helping rebel Shiite militiaman loyal to cleric Moqtada Sadr with weapons, and calling Tehran "the number one enemy."

- AFP"


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