Bush Threatens to Provoke Wider Conflict in Middle East

January 12th, 2007 - by admin

The Independent & The Christian Science Monitor & The Telegraph & Reuters – 2007-01-12 08:43:26

Bush’s Tough Tactics Are a ‘Declaration of War’ on Iran
Anne Penketh, Diplomatic Editor / The Independent

LONDON (January 11, 2007) — American forces stormed Iranian government offices in northern Iraq, hours after President George Bush issued a warning to Tehran that was described as a “declaration of war”.

The soldiers detained six people, including diplomats, according to the Iranians, and seized documents and computers in the pre-dawn raid which was condemned by Iran. A leading UK-based Iran specialist, Ali Ansari, said the incident was an “extreme provocation”. Dr Ansari said that Mr Bush’s speech on future Iraq strategy amounted to “a declaration of war” on Iran.

“The risk is a wider war. Because of the underlying tensions, we are transferring from a ‘cold war’ into a ‘hot war’,” he said.

In his speech, the President accused Iran and Syria of providing material support for attacks on US troops, and vowed to stop the “flow of support” from across the border. “We will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq,” he said.

Dr Ansari argued that the Bush administration had decided to confront Iran at a time when public opinion has been focused on the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. “There’s been a shift of emphasis without anyone noticing,” he said.

“Moderate” Sunni Arab states who feel threatened by the rise of Shia Iran, thanks to its influence in Iraq and its refusal to curb its nuclear programme, could be expected to back the Bush approach, he said. The US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, is due to visit Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia this week.

Until now, the Bush administration had been content to deal with the perceived Iranian threat diplomatically. The United Nations adopted sanctions against Tehran on 23 December. However, the economic measures adopted by the UN have failed to convince Iran to halt its uranium-enrichment programme which could lead to production of a nuclear weapon. The US is calling on allied states to adopt tougher unilateral sanctions.

President Bush appointed Admiral William Fallon to replace General John Abizaid as head of Central Command for Iraq and Afghanistan last week in a sign that change could be afoot. This week, Mr Bush ordered a second aircraft carrier to the Gulf, along with its support ships, which could be used to contain Iran.

The US Treasury named Iran’s Bank Sepah as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction on Tuesday, banned US companies or citizens from doing business with it and blocked any of its assets that come under American jurisdiction.

But if the US is preparing to confront Iran militarily — which some top military officials in Israel are reportedly recommending — the Bush administration will find itself involved in conflicts on four fronts.
In Somalia, US special forces have been pounding suspected al-Qa’ida suspects since early on Monday, in a continuing operation that risks pulling the Americans back into a conflict in a failed state.

US forces are also active in southern Afghanistan in the hunt for the al-Qa’ida leader, Osama bin Laden, and his top associates. Al-Qa’ida has reactivated its Taliban allies who have become bolder in their attacks on coalition forces.

In Iraq, US troops are losing soldiers on an almost daily basis to the bombs of Sunni and Shia insurgents. The Shia-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was warned by Ms Rice yesterday that his days were numbered unless he was able to take on Shia militias who are his allies in government.

Ms Rice followed up President Bush’s tough words on Iran by saying: “The President made very clear last night that we know Iran is engaged in activities endangering our troops… and that we’re going to pursue those who may be involved in those activities.”

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, protested against the raid by US forces in Arbil, saying on Iranian state-run radio that it targeted a “diplomatic mission” since the “presence of Iranian staffers in Irbil was legal”.

Ironically, Iran had been contained by Saddam Hussein, until his overthrow by the Americans in 2003. Obsessed by a threat from “Persian hordes”, Saddam maintained ambiguity about his weapons of mass destruction so Iran would believe that it had reason to fear its western neighbour. So have the Americans made a strategic mistake by refusing to engage with Iran? “There’s no doubt that nothing good will come of this,” said Dr Ansari.

The US Moves to Confront Iran and Syria
Scott Peterson / The Christian Science Monitor
ISTANBUL, TURKEY (January 12, 2007) — Close to the same hour Wednesday night that President Bush vowed to disrupt the “flow of support” from Iran and Syria to “terrorists and insurgents” in Iraq, US forces raided an Iranian consulate in northern Iraq, arresting five diplomats and staff and taking computers and files.

The raid, and a buildup of US warships in the Persian Gulf, indicate that the Bush administration is ignoring the advice of the Iraq Study Group (ISG) to reach out to the two neighbors to help quell the violence in Iraq.

The tough rhetoric and military action – the second incident involving Iranian officials in Iraq in recent weeks – is seen in Tehran as a sign of escalation in the prickly US-Iran dynamic that could further complicate American efforts to calm the fires in Iraq and establish regional stability.

“It seems these 21,000 new troops Mr. Bush wants to send to Iraq are not just to calm [that] country,” says Saeed Laylaz, a political and security analyst in Tehran. “It means the new strategy of the US in Iraq and the region is going to put more actual pressure against Iran — financial and military at the same time.”

Iranian officials reacted angrily, calling the raid in the northern Kurdish city of Arbil illegal and a signal that US policy toward the Islamic Republic remained “hostile.” Throughout 2006, the possibility of US-Iran talks about Iraq appeared to indicate the possibility that 28 years of bitter estrangement might be starting to fade.

There had been some hope in Syria, too, that the ISG’s recommendations to engage Iran and Syria might improve strained US-Syrian ties. Bush’s reference to deploying Patriot antimissile batteries to the region was aimed squarely at Iran — a point not missed in Tehran.

There had been some hope in Syria, too, that the ISG’s recommendations to engage Iran and Syria might improve heavily strained US-Syrian ties. Bush’s reference to deploying Patriot antimissile batteries to the region, to “reassure our friends and allies,” was aimed squarely at Iran — a point not missed in Tehran.

Their arrival “is part of the US policy direction to create a support umbrella for the Zionist [Israeli] regime through an Islamic country,” said Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini. The troop surge, he said, will only “extend insecurity, danger, and tension in the country. This will not help solve Iraq’s problems.”

Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa said that boosting US troops would “pour oil on the fire” in Iraq.

Bush’s comments, in which he stated as fact that a consequence of US “failure” in Iraq would leave Iran “emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons,” left many Iranians convinced that there is little chance of rapprochement during the remaining two years of his presidency, regardless of the results in Iraq.

Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful energy production, and denies that it wants the bomb. To date, UN atomic energy agency inspectors say they have found no evidence that Iran, a signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has a weapons program.

“It appears that George Bush is hostile against the Islamic Republic, and is ruling out any compromise between Iran and the US,” says Sadiq Zibakalam, a political scientist at Tehran University. “It was a bit surprising because after the [ISG] report, one thought that George Bush would be thinking seriously about its findings … but he simply ignored it altogether.”

The tough talk and military steps have led “many people in Iran [to] feel that if George Bush had not been bogged down in Iraq, he would have definitely attacked Iran long ago,” says Mr. Zibakalam, adding that the current climate of suspicion resembles the period after Bush declared Iran part of an “axis of evil” three years ago.

“If the increase in [US] force levels in Iraq represents an escalation of the war as some insist,” says Gary Sick, an Iran expert at Columbia University, “then the extension of US power, directly or indirectly, against Iran would represent an escalation of a different sort — and no less momentous in terms of its potential long-range implications.” Mr. Sick was the principal White House aide for Iran during the 1979 Islamic revolution and hostage crisis.

In December, several Iranians were arrested in Baghdad at the offices of a prominent Shiite leader. US officials are reported also to have found documents about Iran’s role in Iraq, working with both anti-US Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents.

The White House has long accused Iran of meddling in Iraq, though analysts in Tehran agree that a stable Iraq — although preferably one of “manageable chaos” that keeps US forces tied down — is in its best interest.

“Raising troop levels shows that the US is not ready to go out of the region,” says analyst Mr. Laylaz. “The US can’t go out of [Iraq] at the moment. If they go now, there will be a bloodbath in Iraq, and it will be absolutely harmful for the majority Shiites in the country. I don’t think Mr. Maliki’s regime can stay in power for more than week if the Americans leave.”

At a press conference Thursday, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice renewed an offer to talk with her Iranian counterpart to discuss “every facet” of mutual grievance, if Iran first suspends uranium-enrichment programs — a step that Tehran has ruled out.

But Secretary Rice also told Fox News: “The president made very clear last night that we know that Iran is engaged in activities that are endangering our troops, activities that are destabilizing the young Iraqi government, and that we’re going to pursue those who may be involved in those activities.”

“There is a sense in Washington among some [conservative] circles — mistakenly, I would say — that their policy of putting pressure on Iran is working,” says Mohammad Hadi Semati, a professor of political science at Tehran University who is finishing a three-year stint at the Woodrow Wilson Center and Carnegie Endowment in Washington.

US conservatives point to the backlash in December elections against candidates loyal to archconservative Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the recent unanimous UN Security Council decision to impose modest sanctions against Iran over the nuclear issue.

“There is a perception in some quarters in [Washington], that ‘maybe our policy is working, so let’s push further, and further put the screws on Iran,’ ” says Mr. Semati, noting that the election backlash was largely due to domestic issues in Iran. “The facts of the matter really don’t matter.”

The effect of Bush’s stance may instead be the opposite in Iran. “If anything, this will help consolidate conservative forces, the hard-liners, even more,” says Semati. “And the moderate, pragmatic forces, looking for an engagement [with the US and the West] — even a minimal engagement — they are going to lose the case.”

A similar reaction may take place in Syria. “I keep hearing from Syrians that President Bush has lost touch with reality,” says Andrew Tabler, a Damascus-based fellow with the Institute of Current World Affairs. The continued tough US stance against Syria, he says “is only going to strengthen the hard-liners in Syria, who have already come into the ascendance in the last year-and-a-half or so.”

US-Syrian relations have been in a deep freeze since the assassination of Rafik Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister, two years ago. But several US senators have visited Damascus in recent weeks, emboldened by the Democrats’ success in the midterm elections, and by the ISG call to reengage.

Even as the US has criticized Syria for allowing militants across its 400-mile border with Iraq, Iraq-Syria ties have improved since a visit by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem to Baghdad in November. Diplomatic ties were restored last month, and a joint security agreement signed.

Still, Syria’s vice president, Mr. Sharaa, does not expect the Americans to ease their tough stance, says Ibrahim Hamidi, the Damascus correspondent of the Arabic Al-Hayat daily, who met Sharaa on Wednesday.

“If the Syrians keep on sending positive messages to the Iraqis, and if the relations with the Iraqis improve, then this may have some impact on Syria’s relations with the Americans,” says Mr. Hamidi. “But nothing will happen soon. It will take time.”

• Correspondent Nicholas Blanford contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon.

US Threatens Iran over its Iraq ‘Meddling’
Toby Harnden / The Telegraph

WASHINGTON (January 12, 2007) — The United States has delivered a blunt warning to Iran that it will not “stand idly by and let these activities continue” if Teheran persists in its support for insurgents in Iraq, and pointedly declined to rule out military action.

Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, gave a series of interviews today in which she put Iran on notice and called on Iran and Syria to end their destabilizing behavior in the region before any diplomatic talks could take place.

“I don’t want to speculate on what operations the United States may be engaged in, but you will see that the United States is not going to simply stand idly by and let these activities continue,” she said.

The tough language came after President George W Bush in his Iraq strategy speech said: “We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.”

In a thinly-veiled message to Iran, he also stated that he had “recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region”. Mr Bush has also appointed Adml William Fallon, a naval aviator, to command all US forces in the Middle East.

Senators Fear Iraq War May Spill to Iran, Syria
Arshad Mohammed and David Morgan / Reuters

WASHINGTON (January 11, 2007) — U.S. Democratic and Republican senators voiced strong concern on Thursday that the Iraq war could spread to neighboring Iran and Syria if the U.S. military were to chase militants across the border.

President Bush, who accuses Iran and Syria of fomenting the violence in Iraq, on Wednesday proposed sending 21,500 more U.S. troops to try to restore security nearly four years after the U.S.-led invasion.

Bush sparked worries that the conflict may widen by his comment that “we’ll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.”

U.S. officials said their plan was to disrupt such networks while staying inside Iraq, but their comments did not appear to mollify senior U.S. lawmakers.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden bluntly told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice he did not think Bush had the authority to launch attacks to stamp out militant networks in Iran and Syria.

“If the president concluded he had to invade Iran … or Syria in pursuit of these networks, I believe the present authorization granted the president to use force in Iraq does not cover that and he does need congressional authority to do that,” said Biden.

“I just want to set that marker,” added the Delaware Democrat, who later wrote Bush a letter asking for an “authoritative answer” on whether he believed U.S. forces could cross into Iran or Syria without congressional authorization.

In a testy hearing about Bush’s new plan for Iraq, Rice said she did not want to speculate on the president’s constitutional authority for such action.

“Obviously, the president isn’t going to rule anything out to protect our troops, but the plan is to take down these networks in Iraq,” she said.
Earlier on Thursday, U.S. forces stormed an Iranian government representative’s office in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil and arrested five people, including diplomats.

“We will continue to work with the Iraqis and use all of our power to limit and counter the activities of Iranian agents who are attacking our people and innocent civilians in Iraq,” Rice said in a prepared statement given to the committee.

Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska also expressed concern about potential future U.S. action in Iran or Syria. “You cannot sit here today — not because you’re dishonest or you don’t understand — but no one in our government can sit here today and tell Americans that we won’t engage the Iranians and the Syrians cross-border,” said Hagel, a Vietnam veteran and possible 2008 presidential candidate.

Several Republican and Democratic senators pressured the Bush administration to talk directly to Iran, but Rice repeated the administration’s reluctance to do so unless Iran abandons sensitive atomic work, a step Tehran has so far rejected.

Rice suggested Iran might use a dialogue about Iraq to extort US concessions on its nuclear program, a trade-off US officials have rejected. The United States believes the program is aimed at building weapons, while Tehran says it is for generating electricity.

The United States has sought to pressure Iran over its nuclear program through a unanimous U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution that passed in December, but the top U.S. intelligence official suggested Iran’s economy was resilient.
“Record oil revenues and manageable debt suggest that Iran is capable, for now, of weathering shocks to the economy,” U.S. intelligence chief John Negroponte said in written testimony submitted to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Separately, key lawmakers warned they would insist that the Bush administration impose sanctions on China if Beijing pursues an agreement to develop Iranian gas fields.

The two countries in December announced a preliminary deal, believed worth $16 billion, for China to invest in Iran’s north Pars gas field and to construct plants to produce liquefied natural gas.

(Additional reporting Sue Pleming)

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