Washington (AFP) Feb 21, 2007
The United States on Tuesday dismissed an Iranian offer to suspend uranium enrichment work if Western countries did the same, as a second US aircraft carrier took up position in the region. The offer came ahead of a Friday report by the UN nuclear watchdog expected to confirm that Iran has defied the calls for a halt to its sensitive uranium enrichment program. Washington and many Western nations believe Iran wants to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran insists the program is peaceful.
Many Americans, including some US legislators, fear that President George W. Bush is determined to attack Iran despite repeated denials by the president and top US officials.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a rally in Rasht that Iran would be willing to stop the enrichment program if other nuclear powers were willing to do the same.
"Do you believe that's a serious offer?" White House spokesman Tony Snow asked Tuesday, when told of Ahmadinejad's comments.
Snow declined to comment on whether Iran might face additional sanctions if it failed to meet the UN deadline, and said Washington was waiting for the report from the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei.
ElBaradei is to report by Friday on whether Iran has stopped uranium enrichment efforts, as required by the UN Security Council. The finding, which will be reviewed at an IAEA board of governors meeting on March 6, could pave the way for tougher sanctions against Iran.
Meanwhile, the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis arrived with its battle group in the Sea of Oman, joining the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower already in the region.
The United States has not had two carrier battle groups in the Gulf region since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said the move is to show US commitment to the region, and was not in preparation for possible military action against Tehran.
Senior Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman stressed US commitment to dealing with Iran through diplomacy, and dismissed a BBC report that the US military had drawn up contingency plans for air strikes against Iran as "ludicrous."
The United States has "significant concerns" about Iran's nuclear programs and its meddling in Iraq, Whitman said. "But we're addressing those issues on a diplomatic track."
The BBC, citing diplomatic officials, said the US target list went beyond Iranian nuclear facilities and included air and naval bases, missile facilities and command and control centers.
In Manama, the outgoing commander of the US Navy's Fifth Fleet worried that an Iranian "miscalculation" could spark an armed conflict in the Gulf region.
Vice Admiral Patrick M. Walsh, who also heads the US Naval Forces Central Command, told a small group of reporters at Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain that Iran was more likely to threaten oil traffic through the Strait of Hormuz than mine the strategic passageway in the event of a showdown.
"What concerns me is miscalculation. That's certainly what we are trying to avoid ... a mistake that then boils over into a war," Walsh said.
Walsh, whose forces' main mission is to secure free navigation in the Gulf and in a zone stretching from the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean to Pakistan in the east, was referring specifically to the northern part of the Gulf, where two Iraqi oil platforms are located and "the incursions from Iran have continued to grow over time."
Separately, US State Department spokesman Tom Casey welcomed comments by a Russian atomic energy agency spokesman that his country may delay delivering nuclear fuel for Iran's Bushehr nuclear power station, which Moscow is building, due to payment problems.
US Congressman Tom Lantos, the Democrat that chairs the House of Representatives' foreign affairs committee, told reporters covering his trip to Moscow that the United States has "no intention whatsoever" of engaging in military conflict with Iran.
"It is the policy of the United States to deal with the problems that the regime in Tehran poses for all of us in a peaceful and diplomatic fashion," said Lantos.
The top Democrat in the US House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senator Hillary Clinton have said Bush needs authorization from the US Congress for any attack on Iran.
earlier related report
In any case, some of Iran's preconditions have already slammed the door shut on possible future talks. The Islamic Republic suggests a complete nuclear free zone in the Middle East. This of course, would mean that Israel -- although it has never officially admitted to possessing nuclear weapons -- would be required by such an agreement to dispose of its nuclear arsenal, something that is hardly likely to happen anytime in the near future.
The foreseeable future in fact does not appear promising as far as relations between Iran and the United States are concerned. With no direct dialogue taking place between Tehran and Washington tension in the area is only likely to increase. This week a second American carrier task force, the USS John C. Stennis, will reach the Gulf around the same time that Iranian revolutionary guards are conducting one of the largest military exercises involving live ammunition.
Washington and the West insist on a Middle East devoid of nuclear weapons, excluding Israel, citing fears that if Iran manages to build a nuclear bomb, other countries in the region would likely want to follow suit. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey -- all three Sunni-dominated countries-- are likely candidates to join the nuclear club. Saudi Arabia certainly has the financial means to buy itself a nuclear weapon or two or three, or maybe to entice Pakistani scientists to come to work in the desert kingdom in return for lucrative financial contracts and benefits.
Meanwhile, Ali Larijani, Iran's top negotiator on nuclear affairs said, his country is "looking for new ways and means to start negotiations," as he headed into a new round of talks with Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency for an eleventh hour meeting in Vienna Tuesday.
At the end of the day the final decision regarding Iran's nuclear program rests with the country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But an early indication came from Ahmadinejad, who stressed that Iran would stand fast by its commitments to pursue its nuclear program. And so far the vast majority of Iran's leaders have maintained the same approach towards their nuclear policy.
"If they say that we should close down our fuel production facilities to resume talks, we say fine, but those who enter talks with us should also close down their nuclear fuel production facilities," Ahmadinejad said, in essence closing the door to future negotiations on the subject.
So what are the chances for a negotiated resolution to the crisis? President George W. Bush continues to say that everything remains on the table and has not ruled out military action. His new secretary of Defense however, Robert Gates, insists that the United States is not looking for a pretext for war with Iran.
A BBC report citing unnamed diplomatic sources, however, said U.S. contingency plans for any U.S. attack goes beyond targeting atomic sites to include most of Iran's military infrastructure. With the bulk of the U.S. military currently tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan it would be unrealistic to imagine that any military engagement with Iran would resemble the conflict in Iraq. One might imagine that in the eventuality of a confrontation with the Islamic Republic the U.S. would want to restrict the fighting to heavy use of the Air Force, guided missiles and seaborne bombardments.
The disadvantage of trying to win a war without committing ground troops by relying almost exclusively on superior air power was demonstrated last August when Lebanese Shiites of Hezbollah clashed with the Israeli army. Hezbollah dug in and waited for the infantry to arrive. That is when the real fighting began. In Iran's case the United States will certainly not commit its infantry. However, Iranian ground forces might well chose to cross the border into Iraq and confront American forces there, on what is almost home turf.
A report prepared for the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research 12th annual conference by Anthony Cordesman of Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies is looking closely at Iran's military capabilities.
Cordesman pointed to five major kinds of current and potential threats posed by Iran.
1. As a conventional military power Iran currently has limited capabilities. It could become more threatening if it was allowed to modernize its military components.
2. Iran can pose an asymmetric threat using unconventional forces.
3. Iran's capabilities to use proxies, such as Lebanon's Hezbollah militia, strengthen its asymmetric power.
4. Iran's potential to develop nuclear power armed long-range missiles.
5. Iran's potential to promote religious and ideological feelings in the Islamic world could polarize even further the schism between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
Cordesman's report, specifically parts relating to Iran's capability of carrying out asymmetrical warfare, is something every U.S. military planner thinking of engaging Iran -- from the Commander in Chief to the platoon's 2nd lieutenant in the field -- must be made to study thoroughly. -- (Comments may be sent to Claude@upi.com.)
Source: United Press International
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Moscow (RIA Novosti) Feb 21, 2007
The Russian foreign minister said Wednesday U.S.-led multinational foreign forces in Iraq must not conduct military operations outside the country, including against Iran. "The multinational force in Iraq should abide strictly by the UN Security Council's mandate, which does not provide for any operations outside the country," Sergei Lavrov said in an interview with weekly Lebanese magazine Al-Watan Al-Arabi.
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