US, Iran secretly discussed swap of al Qaeda detainees for Iranian dissidents


Robert Windrem
NBC News
March 15, 2013

The arrest of Suleiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, has led to a fresh examination of a little-known chapter in George W. Bush’s “War on Terror’ — secret talks between U.S. and Iranian officials in 2002 and 2003 aimed at working out an exchange of al Qaeda leaders detained in Iran for Iranian dissidents under U.S. control in Iraq.

The proposed deal fell apart when Washington balked at sending the Iranian dissidents — members of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, best known by the acronym MEK — to what they believed would be certain death at the hands of Iranian authorities, current and former U.S. and Iranian officials told NBC News.

Ghaith, who is being held in a New York jail cell after spending a decade in Iran among the al Qaeda group, pleaded not guilty last week to charges of conspiring to kill Americans.

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