Associated Retired Aviation Professionals

June 23, 2001  

NY Times 

The United States has never known quite what to do about Iran's role in 
anti-American terrorism. From the embassy bombings and hostage taking in 
Lebanon during the early 1980's to the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia 
in 1996, Washington's response to evidence that Tehran was sponsoring 
violence against American interests has been marked by deep ambivalence and 
contorted internal debates among several generations of policy makers. To 
critics who advocate a harder line toward Iran, the government's indictment 
of 13 Saudis and a Lebanese in the Khobar Towers bombing, handed down 
Thursday, just short of Monday's five-year anniversary of the attack, once 
again revealed an American reluctance to tackle Tehran head-on on 
state-sponsored terrorism. United States officials have said they have 
evidence of Iranian involvement, and at a news conference announcing the 
indictment, Attorney General John Ashcroft charged that Iranian officials 
"inspired, supported and supervised members of Saudi Hezbollah" in the 
attack. But prosecutors stopped short of bringing charges against any 
individual Iranian officials.  "Why haven't we been more forward leaning on 
Iran?" asked one former United States official familiar with the long debate 
in the government over the Khobar Towers case. "The intelligence on Iran is 
pretty strong, and they could have named names of Iranian officials."  The 
Clinton administration was widely criticized for its failure to pursue 
evidence that Iran was behind the bombing, but now, the Bush administration 
has shown that same reluctance. Prosecutors did not cite Iranian officials by 
name despite what some officials said was the hope of Louis J. Freeh, the 
director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, that Iranian officials would 
be charged. Mr. Freeh, who had taken a personal interest in the case, said on 
Thursday that it would remain open, and Mr. Ashcroft made it clear that the 
United States would be willing to pursue charges against Iranian officials if 
more evidence emerged.  The United States has often been willing to punish 
lesser nations when they step over the line into support for terrorist acts, 
often with less evidence of their involvement in specific acts than was the 
case with the Khobar Towers bombing. The United States bombed Libya in 1986 
after it linked it to the bombing of a Berlin nightclub that killed American 
soldiers. The Clinton administration launched missile strikes against 
Afghanistan and Sudan in 1998 after the embassy bombings in East Africa. Yet, 
several administrations have hesitated to retaliate against Iran. By 1999, 
the evidence linking Iran to the bombing was strong enough so that President 
Clinton sent a secret letter to Iran's president, Mohammad Khatami, asking 
for help in solving the Khobar case. The letter was sent after the United 
States obtained convincing information that Iranian officials were behind the 
attack. The letter came in the midst of Mr. Clinton's broader efforts to 
reach out to Mr. Khatami and engage the reformist forces in Iran. But the 
Iranians refused to help on the case. Mr. Freeh reportedly concluded that the 
Clinton administration was not serious about solving the case, and he is said 
to have waited until Mr. Clinton left office in order to try to bring charges 
in the matter. 

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