01 February 2007
United States Warns Iran to Stop Arming Iraqi Militias
Iranian government must "cease and desist," says State's Burns
Washington – Iran must stop arming Iraq’s Shiite insurgents, says Under Secretary of State R. Nicholas Burns.
“This is a very serious situation, and the message from the United States is Iran should cease and desist,” Burns said in a February 1 interview with National Public Radio.
Burns said the United States has been tracking expanding contacts between Iranian security services and Iraq’s Shiite militias for the past two years and have warned the Iranian government privately to stop destabilizing their Iraqi neighbors.
U.S. political and military officials have repeatedly accused the Iranian government of supporting several groups active in the ongoing sectarian violence that has destabilized the country and complicated efforts by the democratically elected government of Nuri al-Maliki to promote political reconciliation among the country’s Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish communities. (See related article.)
Of particular concern to the United States are “very sophisticated” bomb components seized by coalition forces from insurgents that intelligence analysts have traced back to Tehran. The devices frequently are used to target Iraqi civilians as well as U.S.-led coalition forces.
In December 2006 and again on January 11, U.S. forces detained groups of Iranians operating secretly in Iraq without diplomatic status who might have been involved with militia operations against U.S. forces. Although detainees from the first incident since have been released, the second group remains in coalition custody. (See related article.)
“The Iranian paramilitary and intelligence forces, who we believe are in Iraq, are not there under U.N. authorization or at the invitation of the Iraqi government. So there's a clear legal -- and I would say political and moral -- difference between what the United States is doing, which is to try to unify Iraq and bring the country to a greater measure of stability, and what the Iranians are doing,” Burns said.
The Iranian government’s actions in Iraq, Burns said, are an indicator of its larger agenda. “Iran is seeking a position of dominance in the Middle East,” he said.
Recent news reports of an increased U.S. naval presence in the Gulf and President Bush’s January 29 pledge that the United States would deal firmly with Iranians found working with Iraqi militias to target coalition forces have led to concerns about a U.S. military strike against Iran.
“I don't believe that a military conflict with Iran is inevitable,” Burns said. “I think that if we're patient and we're skillful, we can have a diplomatic solution to these problems.” (See related article.)
But, he added, “the Iranians need to understand they can't come barging into a situation and express what they want and seek a position of dominance without some kind of reaction from the moderate Arab states and from the United States.”
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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