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The European Union plans to rapidly improve security relations with Iran as part of a Western effort to fight terrorism. This despite the fact that Tehran is, in the words of one expert, “the capital of global terrorism.”

Dr. Assad Homayoun of the International Strategy Studies Association said that if the Iranian regime loses its grip on the Hezbollah organization, it will lose its power. On the other hand, he said, “if Iran does not change its policy of supporting terrorism with financial, logistical and ideological means,” it will qualify as a prime target of the U.S. war on terrorism as set forth in President Bush’s speech of Sept. 20.

On April 24-25 this year, Iran hosted an international conference of 35 nations and the Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad organizations dedicated to the Palestinian war effort with Israel.

Nevertheless, EU officials said both Europe and the United States have concluded that Iran is a key player in any battle against Osama bin Laden. They said both the EU and the United States plan to improve relations with Tehran.

On Sept. 24, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw left for Tehran. The talks, which began on Sept. 25, mark the highest-level official visit by a British representative since 1979, when the shah of Iran was overthrown.

“Whilst in the past Britain and Iran may not have agreed on the definition of terrorism, or how to deal with it most effectively, I hope this can be the beginning of a dialogue which leads to much closer cooperation,” Straw said in a statement.

Straw discussed strategic issues and cooperation, the officials said. The British minister also delivered to his Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharazi, a message from the United States.

The London-based Times daily reported on Sept. 24 that Straw planned to urge Iran to cooperate in the capture of Hezbollah insurgent Imad Mughniyeh, who is believed to be in the Iranian city of Qom. Mughniyeh is said to have masterminded numerous bombings and hijackings against Israeli, British and U.S. interests.

The Tehran Times reported Sept. 24 that the United States has asked Iran to extradite 100 suspected terrorists.

Israel responded angrily to the Straw visit. Israeli Transportation Minister Ephraim Sneh, who has warned of Iranian missile and weapons of mass destruction programs, said Straw’s visit was a “knife in the back of Israel.”

On Sept. 24, the Saudi-owned Al Hayat daily reported that Israeli fighter jets flew over Iran and Pakistan in an operation coordinated by the United States. Neither country has confirmed the report.

The visit by Straw will be followed by an EU delegation to Tehran. Officials said a date has not been fixed for what is expected to be a delegation of EU ministers.

For its part, Iran does not appear surprised by the EU attention. Officials said Tehran is now recognized as the leading power in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.

Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani said his country is the most powerful and stable country in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, European Union countries are quietly acknowledging concern over Libya’s growing missile threat.

Western diplomatic and defense sources said Libya’s medium- and intermediate-range missile programs put southern Europe at risk. Last year, Libya received the first shipment of 50 North Korean No-Dong missiles. The missiles have a range of 1,300 kilometers, which can ensure a strike over most of southern Europe.

“Libya has taken delivery of a consignment of North Korean ballistic missiles capable of hitting targets in Israel and NATO states in southern Europe as well,” British shadow defense minister Iain Duncan Smith said.

Smith said in a recent lecture at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation that up to 40 countries have missile capability and nearly half possess nuclear, chemical or biological warheads. Smith cited Syria, which tested its Scud D missile, with a range of nearly 700 kilometers.

The European sources said Libya has several programs meant to strike targets in such countries as Italy and Spain. Tripoli has been developing the Al Fatah missile, with a range of 700 kilometers. Libya has also expressed interest in obtaining technology and components from Iran’s Shahab-3 missile.

But the sources said that unlike other countries, such as Iran, Iraq and Syria, Libya has tried to attack a European target. In 1987, Libya fired Scud missiles toward the Italian island of Lampadusa. The missiles did not strike their target.

U.S. defense officials have confirmed the Libyan threat to Europe and said that over the last 18 months many EU members have recognized a missile threat from the Middle East. A State Department report on missiles, released on Sept. 7, warned that Europe is under threat from several Middle East countries.

“Iranian and Libyan programs are also a threat to our European and Middle East friends and allies,” the report said.

 


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