Rice: Iran ‘perhaps single greatest’ security risk to US

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice singled out Iran on Wednesday as ”perhaps the single greatest challenge” to US security, but stressed that diplomacy was the preferred way to end its nuclear drive.

President George Bush last week warned that a nuclear-armed Iran evoked the threat of ”World War III”, and Vice-President Dick Cheney on Sunday spoke of ”serious consequences” unless the Islamic republic comes to heel.

The bellicose tone has revived speculation that US hardliners are pressing for a military conflict with Iran, which also stands accused of funding and training Shi’ite extremists in Iraq through its Revolutionary Guard Corps.

In testimony to Congress, Rice said ”serious consequences” would include a third round of sanctions from the United Nations Security Council to punish Iran’s refusal to renounce uranium enrichment.

”We are very concerned that the policies of Iran constitute perhaps the single greatest challenge to American security interests in the Middle East and around the world,” she said.

”The regime’s emboldened foreign policy, as demonstrated by its lethal assistance to groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories, further underscores Iran’s hegemonic aspirations in the region.”

But Rice was also adamant that while Bush ”does not take any options off his table, he’s committed to a diplomatic course with Iran”.

”We are, with our international partners, continuing to pursue a two-track approach on the nuclear issue,” she told the House of Representatives foreign relations committee, giving testimony about US policy on the Middle East.

Rice noted that along with talks steered by European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Washington and its EU partners were working on tougher sanctions at the UN.

After talks involving Solana in Rome on Wednesday, Iran’s former nuclear point man Ali Larijani said at a news conference that ”new and constructive ideas” had emerged on the crisis, without going into detail.

Saeed Jalili, an ally of Iran’s hard-line president who was appointed to replace Larijani as the chief nuclear negotiator on Sunday, did not speak at the news conference.

The US is also pressing its allies to help cut Iran off from the international financial system, and so prevent what Rice called its ”ill-gotten gains” being recycled through respectable banks.

Beyond the diplomacy, she said, the United States would do its utmost to prevent Iranian interference in Iraq.

”We are determined to cut off Iran’s malignant activities in Iraq by apprehending and eliminating Quds Force members and other actors who endanger human life and overall national stability,” she said.

”We will defend ourselves and we will defend Iraqis against Tehran’s meddling.”

The Quds Force is the covert operations arm of the Revolutionary Guards and is accused by US commanders of helping Shi’ite militias involved in Iraq’s bloody sectarian conflict.

The US Senate last month resolved to label the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organisation — a step that some Democrats said had set the United States on a path to war with Iran.

Commenting on the recent declarations of Bush and Cheney, Democratic Representative Eni Faleomavaega said he was reminded of the aggressive language used by the US leaders in the run-up to the Iraq invasion.

”It seems to me that this is the same rhetoric that led us to war with Saddam Hussein,” he told Rice, arguing that the US military was already ”struggling” to cope with the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. — AFP

 

AFP

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Jitendra Joshi
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