AFP: British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned Iran against interfering in Iraq on Thursday, saying London suspected explosives used to kill British troops there may have come from the Islamic republic. AFP
by Deborah Haynes
LONDON – British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned Iran against interfering in Iraq on Thursday, saying London suspected explosives used to kill British troops there may have come from the Islamic republic.
In a joint news conference with visiting Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Blair also told Tehran that London would not be subject to intimidation when querying Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons ambitions.
“What is clear is that there have been new explosive devices used not just against British troops but elsewhere in Iraq,” the British leader told reporters.
“The particular nature of those devices led us either to Iranian elements or to Hezbollah,” Blair said.
“However, we can’t be sure of this at the present time.”
In Baghdad, Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari stood by Iran, saying the accusations levelled by Britain were “without foundation and we will not accept them.
Iran has consistently denied interfering in Iraq, and blames the presence of foreign troops for the ongoing violence.
Iran’s foreign ministry rejected accusations by a senior British official on Wednesday that the country’s elite Revolutionary Guard had supplied weapons technology to insurgents in Iraq.
Lebanon’s pro-Iranian Shiite fundamentalist movement Hezbollah also denied the latest British charges.
“Hezbollah considers that the only aim of the British accusations is to cover up the impotence of the British occupation in the face of the increased resistance inside Iraq,” it said in a statement sent to AFP in Beirut.
Blair said British troops would stay for as long as requested in Iraq, which is preparing to hold a referendum next week on a new constitution.
He reiterated that the British and US-led military was authorised to be in the war-scarred nation under a United Nations mandate following the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.
“There is no justification for Iran or any other country interfering in Iraq,” the British leader said.
“Neither will we be subject to any intimidation in raising the necessary and right issues to do with the nuclear weapons obligations of Iran under the atomic energy agency treaty,” he warned.
Amid rising tensions between the two countries, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Britain hoped to talk to the Iranian authorities.
“We look to the Iranian government to sit down with us, hear what we have to say and take action where appropriate,” Straw told reporters.
“Representations have been made to the Iranian government and will continue to be made to the Iranian government,” he said at the Foreign Office in London.
As for Iraq itself, Blair told Talabani that British troops would remain until the Iraqi government asked them to leave.
“We intend to stay with you for as long as you need us and as long as you want us,” he said. Britain contributes some 8,000 troops — largely in the south — to the US-led military coalition there.
Highlighting Iraq’s volatility, Talabani said an early pullout by the multinational forces would be “catastrophic”.
“Your commitment to the cause of democracy in Iraq in training our security forces will help us stand on our feet and run on our own two feet,” he said.
The president acknowledged that Baghdad ultimately wanted to see an end to the presence of coalition forces but only when the country was ready.
“If they pull out it would be catastrophic for the people of Iraq and the cause of democracy and it would be a win for terrorists,” he said.
Dates for the withdrawal of troops will not be set because “a timetable will only help the terrorists.”
Talabani, meanwhile, said the country’s referendum on its constitution on October 15 would be a milestone.
Iraq’s parliament on Wednesday bowed to UN and US pressure by reversing changes to the rules of next week’s referendum that critics deemed were unfair to opponents of the divisive new constitution.
The constitution will now be approved if a simple majority of all those who turn out to vote say “yes” and if two-thirds of voters in at least three provinces do not say “no.”
The charter has caused deep divisions between the Sunnis and the rival majority Shiites and their Kurdish allies who now dominate parliament.