UN-weary, US opts for unilateral moves against Iran

Date: 01-14-07

by Sylvie Lanteaume

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Recent US operations against Iranian interests in Iraq appear to signal a shift by Washington towards unilateral action after growing frustated with slow-moving UN diplomacy.

"We have had a strategy toward Iran, I think, that has been evolving to deal with the serious problems that Iran is causing," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in remarks released Saturday by the State Department.

Rice, who arrived in Jerusalem Saturday at the start of a Middle East tour partly aimed at rallying Arab nations against Iran's influence, defended a US raid Thursday against an Iranian office in Iraq.

US troops entered an Iranian office in Arbil and arrested five people suspected to be engaged in anti-US activities. Tehran condemned the operation.

Rice warned that similar actions would be undertaken. "We've done it a couple of times. We're going to keep doing it," she said aboard a plane heading to the Middle East.

In late December, the US military arrested two Iranian diplomats in Baghdad, then released them several hours later.

Faced with lawmakers' concerns in the Democratic-led Congress that Washington could launch a military intervention in Iran, the White House and the Pentagon have been trying to dispel fears and rumors of a conflict with Iran or Syria, after the announcement of a US military buildup in the Gulf.

President George W. Bush, in unveiling his new plan for Iraq, announced Wednesday the imminent deployment of Patriot anti-missile defense systems in the region to defend Washington's allies and support stability in the Middle East.

In addition, according to a senior US military official, Washington will send two aircraft carrier groups to the Gulf in the coming weeks.

US administration officials now describe Iran as the single greatest threat the United States faces in the Middle East.

Rice assured that the US was not giving up on diplomacy in dealing with Iran, particularly on the issue of its nuclear program that Washington suspects masks a weapons program. Iran insists it is for civilian energy production.

"The nuclear problem -- we're going to continue to leave the door open for diplomacy," Rice said in the State Department release.

"But frankly, the process that we went through to get this last (UN Security Council) resolution was -- even though I think the resolution itself is very good, the process was, I think, not really actually helpful because I think it exposed certain splits.

"Fortunately, we were able to bring it back together around an actual resolution," she said.

The US battled for months to overcome resistance from China and Russia to impose sanctions on Iran for its refusal to suspend uranium-enrichment activities.

A Security Council resolution finally was passed on December 23, but the sanctions imposed were far weaker than those sought by Washington.

The first sign that Washington would act alone came from the US Treasury, which has barred two Iranian banks since September and pressured global financial firms to break their ties with Iran.

"We're going to keep designating Iranian banks," Rice said en route to the region.


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