Feb 1, 2007

The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf

This is to be expected when you have a reputation as the little boy who cried wolf.

The Bush administration has postponed plans to offer public details of its charges of Iranian meddling inside Iraq amid internal divisions over the strength of the evidence, U.S. officials said.

U.S. officials promised last week to provide evidence of Iranian activities that led President Bush to announce Jan. 10 that U.S. forces would begin taking the offensive against Iranian agents who threatened Americans.

But some officials in Washington are concerned that some of the material may be inconclusive and that other data cannot be released without jeopardizing intelligence sources and methods. They want to avoid repeating the embarrassment that followed the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, when it became clear that information the administration cited to justify the war was incorrect, said the officials, who described the internal discussions on condition of anonymity. ...

The Bush administration has charged repeatedly that Iranian agents and military personnel have been bringing in explosives and other weaponry for use in Iraq by Shiite Muslim militants. U.S. intelligence and military officials have said they have substantial evidence of Iranian involvement, but have not made it public.

In an interview broadcast today on NPR, Assistant Secretary of State Nicholas Burns was asked about the topic of yesterday's post here on SMC.

NPR: There's been much interest in a particular incident in recent days near the city of Karbala, where a number of insurgents in U.S. military uniforms, or what looked like them anyway, got past a number of checkpoints and were involved in a gunfight in which a number of Americans were killed. Do you believe Iran had a role in that specific incident?

BURNS: That was a despicable event, and we did lose five young Americans in that attack. We don't know who was responsible. That's under investigation.

NPR: Are you looking at Iran?

BURNS: You know, Steve, it's hard to say. I don't want to say anything that would be inaccurate. And, obviously, we're looking at all sources, and we'll try to find those who are responsible and hold them accountable. But right now it's not possible to say exactly who those people were. But the larger point is this: Iran is seeking a position of dominance in the Middle East. It's very clear. Iran has a regional agenda, which is very much at odds with that of the United States.

NPR: Mr. Burns, you mentioned that the United States has the right of self-defense here. Does that right of self-defense give the United States the right to strike targets within Iran in response to this, should the president choose to do so?

BURNS: Well, the president has said, and others have said, that we don't intend to strike into Iran itself. We're concerned with our obligations and our interests within Iraq. As you know, American military forces are in Iraq under a United Nations resolution. So we have every right to be there. We're there at the invitation of the Iraqi government. The Iranian paramilitary and intelligence forces who we believe are in Iraq are not there under U.N. authorization or at the invitation of the Iraqi government. So there is a clear legal and, I would say, political and moral difference between what the United States is doing — which is to try to unify Iraq and bring the country to a greater measure of stability — and what the Iranians are doing.

NPR: I just want to clarify something here. President Bush, in an interview with NPR earlier this week, said that the United States did not intend to invade Iran. Are you saying the United States does not intend to strike Iran in any way, which I suppose would say you don't intend an airstrike or any other kind of military operation?

BURNS: Well, we have said for a number of years that all options are on the table concerning Iran. But we've also said very clearly, and we've followed this very assiduously, that we're on a diplomatic path. We believe it can be resolved by diplomatic means.

NPR: But I want to understand which of the statements is operative: You don't intend to invade, or you don't intend to strike, given this particular context.

BURNS: We've been very clear we don't intend to cross the border into Iran, we don't intend to strike into Iran, in terms of what we are doing in Iraq.

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