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Iran in about-turn towards security agreement


The government of President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad has been unusually silent about the Iraqi government’s approval of the security pact with the US. But that may be because it has been loathe to publicise its dramatic change of attitude towards the agreement. People close to the government in Tehran said that after initially opposing it – and asking its Shia allies in the Baghdad government to resist it – Tehran has been relatively satisfied with the last-minute changes demanded, and won, by Iraq. Analysts see an additional reason for the about-turn: the election of Barack Obama as US president...

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Iran in about-turn towards security agreement

Najmeh Bozorgmehr

November 28 2008

The government of President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad has been unusually silent about the Iraqi government’s approval of the security pact with the US. But that may be because it has been loathe to publicise its dramatic change of attitude towards the agreement.

People close to the government in Tehran said that after initially opposing it – and asking its Shia allies in the Baghdad government to resist it – Tehran has been relatively satisfied with the last-minute changes demanded, and won, by Iraq.

Analysts see an additional reason for the about-turn: the election of Barack Obama as US president.

The National Iranian American Council said, the election "has provided a new incentive for Tehran to modify its antagonistic policy toward the security agreement and demonstrate that it can help Washington by not becoming a major stumbling block to US efforts to establish military ties with Baghdad."

The shift, it said, suggests that Tehran "sees the future of US policy in a new light and seeks to cooperate with Washington, if its interests are also recognized through mutual diplomacy."

In principle, Iran continues to oppose the presence of the US troops in its neighbourhood.

The security agreement, which the Iraqi parliament voted on Thursday after it was agreed by the cabinet, says American troops will remain in Iraq until the end of 2011.

The accord, however, also gives Iraq power over their movements and allows it to try American troops and defence contractors should they commit crimes off-duty and off-base.

"Iran has adopted active silence which means it is generally okay with the moderated version even though it does not agree with all of it," said Sadegh Kharrazi, Iran’s former ambassador to Paris.

"Iran’s silence at least shows that it is not unhappy," said Mohammad Sadr, a former deputy foreign minister for Arab and Africa affairs. "The US accepted changes in the pact at eight phases which was a difficult retreat for them."

Iran’s attitude marks a shift from its initial opposition to the security agreement as the presence of foreign troops could fuel the Iraqi insurgency and undermine the Baghdad government.

The foreign ministry had insisted that an official position would be announced only after the Iraqi parliament voted on the deal.

"Iran’s flexibility vis-a-vis the pact is a smart move. It is designed not to undermine the Shia government in Baghdad which needed this agreement to improve the country’s situation and not to push the US toward supporting Iraq’s Sunni and some Sunni Arab states," said Mr Kharrazi.

He said Iran had used its influence on different Iraqi groups and pushed for both changes in the agreement and for delays so that it could be signed "in a relatively stable atmosphere" following the US election.

The contined presence of US troops will keep Iran on edge, given its fears about a military attack against the regime, Mr Sadr said . But he added that the pact could have also made a military strike more difficult because it specifies that Iraqi soil could not be used for military action against neighbours, including Syria and Iran.

Washington suspects the Islamic regime is seeking to build nuclear weapons and accuses it of providing insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan with weapons that have killed American forces. Iran denies all charges.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008





:: Article nr. 49133 sent on 28-nov-2008 08:44 ECT

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Link: www.ft.com/cms/s/0/7ae881a8-bcbd-11dd-af5a-0000779fd18c.html



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