Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Bush says Iran must stop support for armed groups

Tabassum Zakaria, Reuters:
Iran must stop supporting armed groups trying to derail democracies in Iraq and Lebanon, President Bush said on Monday, casting the war between Israel and Hizbollah guerrillas as part of a wider struggle against terrorism.

Bush added Lebanon to Iraq and Afghanistan as a front in what his administration calls the global war on terror. "The conflict in Lebanon is part of a broader struggle between freedom and terror that is unfolding across the region," he said.

Unrelenting violence in Iraq has hurt Bush's popularity and Republicans are concerned that anti-war sentiment could hurt their bid to keep control of Congress in the November election.

"It's no coincidence that two nations that are building free societies in the heart of the Middle East -- Lebanon and Iraq -- are also the scenes of the most violent terrorist activity," Bush said READ MORE

The president has repeatedly blamed Iran and Syria for supporting Hizbollah in Lebanon, but on Monday his emphasis was on Tehran -- saying it must back off supporting fighters in both Iraq and Lebanon.

"In both these countries, Iran is backing armed groups in the hope of stopping democracy from taking hold," Bush said.

The United States is pressing for international action to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon. Iran says its nuclear program is only for civilian purposes.

"Iran has made clear that it seeks the destruction of Israel. We can only imagine how much more dangerous this conflict would be if Iran had the nuclear weapon it seeks," Bush said.


As a fragile truce took hold in south Lebanon, Bush again blamed Hizbollah for provoking the month-long conflict. "Hizbollah attacked Israel, Hizbollah started the crisis and Hizbollah suffered a defeat in this crisis," Bush said.

His comments came after Hizbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said his group had achieved a "strategic and historic victory" over Israel and that it was the wrong time to publicly discuss disarming it.

Bush also dismissed critics who blame American policies for the current instability in the Middle East, saying the United States launched its "freedom agenda" only after September 11 and earlier attacks by al Qaeda, hostage-taking by militants in Iran, and attacks by Hizbollah.

"The message of this administration is clear. America will stay on the offensive against al Qaeda. Iran must stop its support for terror, and the leaders of these armed groups must make a choice. If they want to participate in the political life of their countries, they must disarm," Bush said.

The U.N.-brokered truce came after about 1,100 people in Lebanon and 156 Israelis were killed in the conflict. While Israel says it killed around 530 Hizbollah guerrillas, Hizbollah has acknowledged about 80 fighters killed.

(Additional Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky)