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White House: No talks with Iran on prisoner swap

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House on Thursday denied a report that talks are being held between the United States and Iran on a possible exchange of senior al Qaeda figures in Iran for U.S.-held members of an anti-Iran terror group.

The report about the possible talks first appeared on NBC.

The United States has "communicated to Iran the importance of turning over senior members of al Qaeda," a senior Bush administration official said. "No quid pro quo, no negotiations, no exchange."

The report said the possible exchange may involve members of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organization (MEK).

The group, also known as the People's Mujahedin, is dedicated to the overthrow of Iran's Islamic fundamentalist regime and is classified by the U.S. government as an international terrorist group.

The MEK was backed by former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and he allowed it to carry out training activities in his country. The group's aim is to replace Iran's religious government with democratically elected leadership.

Last week, U.S. officials said four top al Qaeda leaders -- including the terrorist group's military leader and its spokesman -- were in custody in Iran.

Iran Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi confirmed reports that had been circulating for weeks, saying that his country was holding what he said was a "large number" of al Qaeda members, but he would not name them.

U.S. officials said those in custody included Saif Al Adel, al Qaeda's military chief, and Suleiman Abu Ghaith, along with two other al Qaeda members.

Saif Al Adel is wanted in connection with the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in east Africa.

Yunesi last week left open the possibility that Iran could be "ready to extradite some" of the suspected terrorists to other countries, while others would likely stand trial in Iran.

In the wake of the May 12 suicide attacks against several Western housing compounds in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, some in the Bush administration have accused Iran of deliberately harboring al Qaeda terrorists who may have been involved in planning those attacks.

The U.S. State Department called Iran "the most active state sponsor of terrorism" in 2002, accusing Tehran of supporting Palestinian and central Asian militant groups and having a "mixed" record regarding al Qaeda.

"While it has detained and turned over to foreign governments a number of al Qaeda members, other al Qaeda members have found virtual safe haven there," the department's most recent report on global terrorism concluded.

-- CNN Correspondent Chris Burns contributed to this report.

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