News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqTo counter Iran’s role in Iraq, Bush moves beyond...

To counter Iran’s role in Iraq, Bush moves beyond diplomacy

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New York Times: In promising to stop Iran from meddling in Iraq, President Bush returned Wednesday night to a strategy of confrontation in dealing with Tehran, casting aside what had been a limited flirtation with a more diplomatic approach toward it. The New York Times

By HELENE COOPER and MARK MAZZETTI
Published: January 11, 2007

WASHINGTON, Jan. 10 — In promising to stop Iran from meddling in Iraq, President Bush returned Wednesday night to a strategy of confrontation in dealing with Tehran, casting aside what had been a limited flirtation with a more diplomatic approach toward it.

Mr. Bush accused Iran of providing material support for attacks on American troops and vowed to respond. “We will disrupt the attacks on our forces,” he said in his speech. “We will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.”

Mr. Bush said the United States would send another aircraft carrier and its supporting ships to the Persian Gulf. Administration officials said the battle group would be stationed within quick sailing distance of Iran, a response to the growing concern that Iran is building up its own missile capacity and naval power, with the goal of military dominance in the gulf.

Mr. Bush also announced the deployment of Patriot missiles to protect America’s gulf allies. A battery of such missiles is already in Qatar, having been moved there several months ago.

The more combative talk reflects increased frustration in the administration with Iran, which American officials blame for part of the rising death toll in Iraq.

Military officials in Baghdad say they have documented a gradual rise in the number of sophisticated roadside bombs using “shaped charges” — a type of weapon that commanders believe is imported from Iran. According to military statistics, 78 coalition troops were killed and 243 were wounded by these bombs between September and December of last year, compared with 53 killed by the bombs in the previous nine months.

American officials have provided members of Congress information to support the claim that Iran is helping to orchestrate attacks on Americans in Iraq, but the administration has not made that information public.

The American officials say that the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds force trains inside Iran and then dispatches operatives into Iraq, using contacts with Iraqi Shiite militias to attack American troops.

“They’re training to kill coalition forces,” said one senior American counterterrorism official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Their comments about wanting to see a stable Iraq are belied by this type of activity.”

Gen. Michael V. Hayden, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, told Congress late last year that while he was originally skeptical of reports of Iranian operations inside Iraq, he now had the “zeal of a convert” on the matter.

One American official who recently returned from a trip to Baghdad said American commanders in Iraq believed that Iran was using its vast political influence to press Shiite politicians not to forge any long-term agreements with Sunnis.

“We caught them with their finger in the cookie jar last month,” a senior administration official said, referring to the arrest of five Iranians in Iraq whom the Americans accused of running guns and planning sectarian attacks. The Iranians were eventually released by Iraqi authorities.

American officials maintain that the latest moves should not be seen as preparations for a military strike against Iran. But they also said that Mr. Bush’s top deputies, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley, had decided that, barring some major conciliatory move from Tehran, American moves to engage Iran had run their course.

The United States has grown frustrated with what one administration official described as the “molasseslike” pace of diplomatic efforts at the United Nations to impose broad sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.

The Security Council passed a resolution on Dec. 23 with sanctions intended to curb Iran’s uranium enrichment program, which Iran says is for peaceful purposes but the United States and some European nations contend is for the purpose of creating nuclear arms. The measure bars the trade of goods or technology related to Iran’s nuclear program.

But American officials acknowledge that the resolution is too weak to force Iran to abandon its nuclear program and are seeking to increase economic and psychological pressure on Iran. The United States is pressing governments and financial institutions in Europe, Japan and China to cut some of their financial ties with Iran.

For instance, during talks in Washington last week between Ms. Rice and visiting Vice Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi of China, American officials urged Beijing to abandon a proposal for a $16 billion natural gas deal for the China National Offshore Oil Corporation to develop Iran’s North Pars gas field, American officials said. The Chinese assured the United States that a decision was not imminent, American officials said.

Mr. Bush is expected to seek to apply pressure to other countries to limit their dealings with Iran in the coming month. American officials are hoping that the economic pressure will also persuade Iran not to actively oppose the new Bush strategy in Iraq.

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