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Oman denies mediating between Iran, U.S.

DUBAI, Oct 4 (Reuters) - Oman's foreign minister said in an interview on Monday the Gulf Arab state was not mediating between arch foes Iran and the United States and denied a press report that it had carried a letter between the two capitals.

Foreign Affairs Minister Youssef bin Alawi bin Abdullah told the London-based Arabic-language al-Hayat newspaper that Oman did not carry a letter from President Bill Clinton to Iran's President Mohammad Khatami.

The Washington Post had reported that the letter, in which Clinton sought Iran's cooperation in investigating the 1996 bombing of a U.S. military housing complex in Saudi Arabia, was carried to Paris by a senior White House official and given to an emissary from Oman who passed it on to Tehran.

Asked if he handed Clinton's letter to Khatami, bin Alawi said: ``We are not mediators in anything and we don't operate this way. This is newspaper talk that we do not have to answer.''

Asked if any Omani emissary had carried the letter, he said: ``We do not have to answer newspaper reports and if we do anything we will do it in public...I have not seen a letter.''

Responding to a question on whether Oman was playing any part in trying to narrow differences between Iran and the United States, Bin Alawi said:

``There are many letters that are exchanged between the United States and Iran, some through the media, and some carried by mediators or through the Swiss embassy which looks after U.S. interests.

``We know about all these letters, or most of them, because there are common interests between us and Iran and because there are mutual obligations between us over the Strait of Hormuz. `

`We are not mediators in anything, this must be made clear and I don't think the United States and Iran need mediators. Mediation is needed, in our opinion, when matters are not clear for both sides. But in this case the sides of the conflict know what the problem is,'' Bin Alawi said.

Relations between Iran and its Gulf Arab neighbours, including Oman, have been improving in the last few years. Oman and Iran agreed last year to military and logistical cooperation.

Iran has rebuffed Clinton's request to help solve the bombing that killed 19 U.S. servicemen, saying it was an internal matter for Saudi authorities. It also denied any involvement in the blast.

The White House confirmed that Clinton sent a letter but refused to give details. Iran and the United States broke diplomatic ties after the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran by militant students.

Some sporting and academic exchanges between Iran and the United States have taken place in the last year following calls from Khatami for the easing of a 20-year freeze in links.


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