Monday, July 19, 2004

Iraq Envoy Expects Better Ties With Iran

Yahoo! News - Iraq Envoy Expects Better Ties With Iran:

"Iraq Envoy Expects Better Ties With Iran

By KEN GUGGENHEIM, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - Iraq's new government expects to have good relations with neighboring Iran despite President Bush's branding of Iran as part of an "axis of evil," Iraq's top diplomat in the United States said Monday.

Iran so far has had a positive role in Iraq, and the Iraqi government recently asked it to cooperate even more on security, including sharing more intelligence, Rend al-Rahim Francke, chief of Iraq's diplomatic mission in Washington, said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Al-Rahim said she believes these overtures prompted Iran recently to capture 200 Afghan fighters who were trying to enter Iraq from Iran. She offered few details about the detentions, which had not been previously known. Last week, Iraq's human rights minister said only one Afghan was in custody — one of 99 foreign fighters held in the country

The United States has hostile relations with Iran, which it alleges supports terrorism, harbors al-Qaida members and is pursuing nuclear weapons. On Monday, Bush said the United States is exploring whether Iran had a role in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — a scenario discounted by the CIA.

Al-Rahim rejected any suggestion that Iran supports terrorism in Iraq.

"It is not in Iran's interest for Iraq to be in turmoil," she said. "If Iraq turns into a haven for terrorists, not only Iraq but all countries in the region will be affected."

She said U.S. officials have not told her of any misgivings about a growing Iraq-Iran relationship. She noted the United States is friendly with other nations that have good relations with Iran, such as Pakistan and Afghanistan (news - web sites).

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Iran has an obligation to support stability, but "we all know that Iran continues to support and supply terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, that they are funneling weapons and money into the groups that are trying to sabotage the creation of a Palestinian state and sabotage the creation of the peace process."

"Our view is that you cannot have it two ways," Boucher said. "You can't say we want stability, but we are going to support terrorists."

Al-Rahim was a fixture in Washington diplomatic circles long before she was appointed last year by the now-defunct Iraqi Governing Council. She was a founder of the Iraqi Foundation, which pushed for democracy during Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)'s rule. A native Iraqi who became a U.S. citizen, she holds graduate degrees from Cambridge University in England and the Sorbonne university in Paris.

Her status is somewhat unclear. She does not hold the title of ambassador, and Iraq's new interim government did not include her among 43 new ambassadors named Monday in Baghdad.

Two of Iraq's neighbors, Iran and Syria, are expected to participate Wednesday in a meeting in Cairo, Egypt, of foreign ministers of Iraq's neighboring states. Iraq is expected to raise the subject of foreign fighters coming across its borders. Al-Rahim repeated complaints of Iraqi officials that the U.S.-led coalition has not paid enough attention to securing the border.

She said Iraq wants "cooperation and good relations with all the countries in the region."

As for multinational troops to monitor Iraq, she said Iraq prefers troops from Muslim and other countries outside the region, such as Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Morocco. "There are too many interests and maybe conflicting interests," al-Rahim said, to have neighboring countries join U.S.-led forces.

She expressed disappointment that the Philippine government is speeding up the withdrawal of its troops to meet a demand by Iraqi insurgents who have threatened to behead a Filipino hostage.

The action merely confirms to "terrorists that terrorism works," she said. "That's all it does. It doesn't stop it."

On other matters, al-Rahim:

_Offered no specific estimate about how long U.S. troops would remain in Iraq and said she did not know whether Iraq would request more U.S. money for reconstruction.

_Said "networks in the region are supporting" terror acts inside Iraq, but she said Iraqis also have been involved in terror. "If there were no Iraqis supporting this, it couldn't flourish this much."

_Said the Iraqi government recently wrote to leaders of the major industrialized nations asking for a 95 percent abatement in Iraq's foreign debt. Iraq's overall debt is about $120 billion.

_Criticized U.S. treatment of Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi. Once strongly supported by top Pentagon (news - web sites) officials, Chalabi has fallen out of favor. U.S. officials say intelligence he provided on weapons of mass destruction proved faulty, and some suspect he provided Iran with U.S. intelligence. U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police raided his home and office in May, when he was on the Iraqi Governing Council.

"I don't think any Iraqi citizen should be treated in that way, let alone somebody who was on the highest Iraqi governing body at that time," al-Rahim said.

_Said she has never met Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, who was born in Iran but is the most influential Muslim figure in Iraq."


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