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Iran: Tehran Remains Suspicious After Baghdad Conference

By Vahid Sepehri

March 12, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iran's Foreign Ministry has called the March 10 Baghdad security conference a good "first step" toward the eventual restoration of peace in Iraq. But individually, Iranian officials have appeared wary of the United States and its motives at the conference.

The Baghdad conference brought together Iraq's neighbors and states including the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. It was likely the first of at least two such meetings.

On March 11, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini claimed that any success "is closely related to a change of political approach" by what he described as "certain parties." Hosseini said Iran believes Iraqis should be given responsibility for "security issues and...government," "Etemad" reported the next day. And he extended Tehran's promise to "back all efforts...effective in taking the Iraqis out of their present problems."

Hosseini cited three factors that would help restore security: turning security over to the Iraqis; setting a timetable for the departure of foreign troops; and a "serious and indiscriminate" response to "terrorist groups."

That view was shared by the right-wing Iranian daily "Resalat." The paper argued on March 12 that the "authoritative" presence of Iraqi security forces prevented a massacre of Shi'ite pilgrims by insurgents at the Arbain religious ceremonies on March 10. "Resalat" said the Shi'ite ceremonies "showed once more that Iraqi security forces -- providing they have the necessary powers and room for maneuver -- are effective enough in assuring security in Iraq."

Call For Removal Of Foreign Troops

Another leading right-wing daily, "Keyhan," on March 1 cited calls by Iran's envoy at the Baghdad conference for the departure of foreign troops from Iraq. Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs Abbas Araqchi argued that "handing security arrangements over to the Iraqi government is most effective way of emerging from the present crisis."

Araqchi called on Iraq's neighbors to help train Iraqi police and boost the capabilities of Iraq's armed forces, and "consolidate [border] security" so Iraq can assert control over its internal affairs. The Iranian envoy warned of a "vicious circle" in which "foreign occupation causes insecurity and insecurity is used to justify continued occupation."

Ahead of the meeting, Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati argued that Washington "want[s] in this meeting to make sure Iraq is taken from the hands of its people and its government handed over to an American body ."

"Keyhan" claimed a split concerning Iran among what it described as "radicals" in the U.S. government. It suggested that U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice harbor a more conciliatory attitude, while it ascribed more intransigent positions to former UN envoy John Bolton. The daily claimed that Khalilzad used to be in greater agreement with Bolton.

Washington Needs Tehran?

The daily "Resalat" claimed that the presence in Baghdad of Khalilzad and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield suggested the need by the United States to talk to Iran in its bid to escape from the "bog" of Iraq. The paper argued that the United States is trying simultaneously to pressure Iran and maintain a visibly dominant position, while conveying through the presence of the two diplomatists "the signals of America's need [for] Tehran in an indirect [but] telling and transparent manner."

"Resalat" predicted that this purported strategy would fail and "White House hawks" would have no choice but to openly express their need for Iranian help "in a diplomatic framework."

Officials in Iran separately expressed skepticism of U.S. motives at the conference. Ahead of the meeting, Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati argued in Tehran's Friday prayers on March 9 that Washington "want[s] in this meeting to make sure Iraq is taken from the hands of its people and its government handed over to an American body -- Iraqi or non-Iraqi -- which is under American domination," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on March 11).

Tehran-based commentator and former Defense Ministry adviser Alireza Akbari expressed similar suspicion. He told ISNA that the United States has the greatest and Iran the "best" roles in Iraq. Akbari said the conference showed the need equitably to redistribute the respective roles and responsibilities of Iraq's neighbors and powers involved in Iraq. He suggested that Saudi Arabia was playing a role but was not accepting responsibility for security in Iraq.

Akbari urged the United States and Iraq's neighbors to respect the "one-Iraq, one-vote principle" and let democracy take its course. Akbari predicted the conference would yield results if -- in his words -- the United States and Saudi Arabia "decided" to allow security to be established in Iraq.

Such statements in Tehran suggest that while the United States suspects Iranian motives and involvement in Iraq, there is suspicion in Tehran, too. That distrust invites the assumptions that the U.S. superpower wishes to remain in Iraq or to install a friendly regime, and that the United States is unlikely to allow the westward spread of Iranian influence.

The other assumption behind such statements is that the departure of occupying troops would lead to a calming of religious discord and violence, renewed Iraqi government control of its territory, and predominantly Shi'ite Iraq falling into a "natural" state of symbiosis and cordiality with the Islamic Republic of Iran.


Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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