July 1, 2005

No evidence Iran leader involved in 1979 siege-U.S.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House said on Friday ithas unearthed no evidence so far that Iranian President-electMahmoud Ahmadinejad was involved in the 1979 siege of the U.S.Embassy in Tehran.

Several Americans who were held have said they recognizedthe ultraconservative Ahmadinejad as a ringleader. But twoIranians who were leading figures in the storming of theembassy said he did not take part.

"We continue to look into it to establish the facts," saidWhite House spokesman Scott McClellan.

Asked if the United States was aware of the allegationsbefore the hostages went public, McClellan noted that PresidentBush had said on Thursday "that he didn't have anyinformation."

Involvement by the new Iranian leader in the 1979-1981hostage crisis would send a chill through the U.S. government,which has not resumed diplomatic relations with Iran. Fifty-twoAmericans were held for 444 days.

Ahmadinejad was a founding member of Office to Foster Unitythat planned the seizure.

In Tehran, two members of that group who declined to benamed told Reuters that Ahmadinejad did not participate in thehostage-taking, saying he initially opposed the seizure andonly supported the move once it was carried out.

The White House spokesman said he could not speak for whatinformation the entire U.S. government might have.

"We're going back and looking at whatever information wehave and trying to establish all the facts," McClellan said.

A U.S. official, who asked not to be identified because heis not authorized to speak publicly, said the U.S. governmentdoes have lists identifying Iranians who took part in thehostage crisis but "in some cases, names may not have beenknown."

The 48-year-old hard-line Tehran mayor was electedpresident in a landslide a week ago and takes over fromreformist President Mohammed Khatami in August. At the time ofthe hostage-taking Ahmadinejad was a 23-year-old student at theIran University of Science and Technology in Tehran.

Also on Friday, another former hostage, Barry Rosen, toldReuters he never had any contact with Ahmadinejad but believedthat if another hostage, former Col. David Roeder, thought itwas him, "then I believe him 100 percent."

Rosen was a U.S. Embassy press attache in Tehran whenstudent militants stormed the compound. In 1998, Rosen met withone of his captors, Abbas Abdi, in a gesture of reconciliation.

"I can only say from my own point of view, I never did seehim so I don't know that is the individual standing next to oneof my colleagues," Rosen said.

"I feel that if Dave says it's so then it's so," he added.

(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan and David Morgan inWashington and from the Tehran bureau)