Thursday, October 06, 2005

Iran and Syria Warned on Terror Links

Christopher Adams in London and Edward Alden in Washington, The Financial Times:
The US and Britain on Thursday issued blunt warnings to Iran and Syria over their alleged involvement with terrorist groups, with Tony Blair declaring there was no justification for Tehran interfering in Iraq's affairs.

The British prime minister, who promised that UK troops would stay in Iraq as long as they were needed, said there was evidence that Tehran had been supplying weapons technology to insurgents who had carried out deadly attacks on US and British forces.

In Washington, President George W. Bush warned both Iran and Syria to abandon their links with terrorists. READ MORE

In remarks that were billed as an important speech on the war on terrorism, Mr Bush named both countries and said: “Any government that chooses to be an ally of terror has chosen to be an enemy of civilisation, and the civilised world must hold those regimes to account.”

Mr Blair's outspoken comments marked a severe deterioration in Britain's relationship with Iran and sparked an angry response from Tehran.

The prime minister confirmed that Tehran or its Lebanese Hizbollah allies might be supplying weapons to insurgents who have killed eight British soldiers in roadside bomb attacks. He said there was “no justification for Iran or any other country interfering in Iraq”.

Speaking in Downing Street, Mr Blair appeared to link Iran's suspected ties to Sunni Muslim insurgents and a radical Shia group to the dispute over Tehran's nuclear ambitions, suggesting the interference in Iraq could be designed to intimidate the US and Europe.

If it is also the case that they are trying to make some point about the negotiations over the nuclear weapons issue in respect of Iran . . . we are not going to be intimidated on that,” he said.

The prime minister's comments, which followed a similar briefing in London on Wednesday by a senior government official, moved Britain several steps closer to matching US hostility towards Iran.

They follow the discovery of infra-red technology, some of it intercepted near the Iranian border, that is suspected to have been used in recent attacks. The equipment, which triggers explosions, is the same as that Lebanese Hizbollah obtained from Iran and used. Mr Blair said the accusations, while unproven, were worrying. What is clear is that there have been new explosive devices. . . the particular nature of those devices leads us either to Iranian elements or to Hizbollah.”

Iran denied the charges. “This is a lie,” said Hamid Reza Asefi, a foreign ministry spokesman. “The British are the cause of instability and crisis in Iraq.” Hizbollah also rejected any link. While US military commanders in Iraq have expressed concerns in recent weeks over political instability and the slow progress in training Iraqi troops, Mr Bush insisted that the US effort had made great progress. “Some observers look at the job ahead and adopt a self-defeating pessimism. It is not justified,” he said. “By any standard or precedent of history, Iraq has made incredible political progress.”