Iran has arrested four Iranians accused of involvement in a U.S.-financed plot aimed at toppling its Islamic system of government, the judiciary said on Tuesday.
The announcement came a week before the inauguration of Barack Obama as U.S. president. In a shift from George W. Bush's approach, he has pledged to increase diplomatic efforts to engage Iran and talk directly to its leaders.
Bush authorized covert action
The United States, which cut ties with Iran shortly after its 1979 Islamic revolution, accuses Tehran of seeking to build nuclear bombs. Iranian officials deny the charge, saying the nuclear program is for electricity production.
Iran often accuses the West of seeking to undermine the Islamic state through a "soft" or "velvet revolution" with the help of intellectuals and others inside the country.
The New York Times on Saturday said Bush had deflected an Israeli request last year for bunker-busting bombs it wanted for an attack on Iran's nuclear complex, saying he had authorized covert action to sabotage its suspected atomic arms development.
Judiciary spokesman Alireza Jamshidi said the accused, who he said were financed by the U.S. government, were arrested in Tehran and their verdicts would be announced soon.
"The news whose details which will be announced either tomorrow or the day after is in connection to a soft network whose intent was to topple (the Islamic system), with U.S. government funding," Jamshidi told a news conference.
"One of the goals these individuals were pursuing in Iran was to set up a network to topple the Islamic establishment, all of whose operators have been arrested," he said.
An Iranian journalist said Tehran would likely seek to tie the accused to a deadly bombing in Shiraz last year.
“They’re going to broadcast confession that the U.S., Israel, U.K. gave them guns and bombs to carry out this thing in Iran,” Dr. Ali Reza Nourizadeh, who has reported extensively on this topic, told AlArabiya.net
Jamshidi said the group, whom he did not identify, had tried to recruit other people in Iran and train them both in and outside the country in techniques for undermining the system. He did not provide details.
The official IRNA news agency also quoted him as saying the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had been involved in establishing and guiding the network.
"Unfortunately we have witnessed in the past years crimes guided or led by this (U.S.) government," Jamshidi said.
Under Bush, whose term ends on Jan. 20, the U.S. has spearheaded a drive to isolate Iran in order to pressure it into halting its nuclear activities, something which Tehran has repeatedly refused to do.
The New York Times report said Bush, aware that financial sanctions against Iran were inadequate, had turned to the CIA and authorized a broader effort aimed at Iran's industrial infrastructure supporting its nuclear program.
Obama, who takes office on Jan. 20, last week said he views Iran as a "genuine threat" but still favors initiating a dialogue with it. On Sunday, he said he will take a new approach toward Tehran that will emphasize respect for the Iranian people and spell out what the United States expects of its leaders.
Unfortunately we have witnessed in the past years crimes guided or led by this government
Alireza Jamshidi, Judiciary spokesman
Other Iran news
In other news, the Iranian judiciary told IRNA on Tuesday that security force had launched a manhunt in southeastern Iran for those behind a suicide attack which killed two policemen and injured 10 last month.
It was the first official confirmation of the Dec. 29 incident being a suicide attack.
Iran's judiciary also confirmed Tuesday that two men had been stoned to death for adultery in the northeastern city of Mashhad while a third struggled from the stoning hole and escaped with his life.