More Pressure Needed to Curtail Iran’s Destabilizing Activities
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 15, 2008 A preview offered to Iran of details in a yet-to-be-released Multinational Force Iraq report about its meddling in Iraq appears to have had no effect, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said today. However, that may change when the report goes public, he added.
The report, prepared under Army Gen. David H. Petraeus’ leadership, documents how Iranians have been supplying, training, equipping and financing extremist Shiite groups within Iraq, Morrell told reporters during a Pentagon news briefing. Petraeus has called these so-called “special groups” the biggest threat to the Iraqi government’s stability.
Information from the MNFI report “has already been shared with the Iranian government,” Morrell said. “I don’t know what, if [any], difference that has made. Perhaps when the rest of the world sees it -- sees the extent to which they have been undermining a duly elected government and really wreaking havoc within that country, perhaps it will increase the international pressure on Iran to change its ways.”
Even with “extraordinary military pressure” on Iranian-backed groups operating in Iraq, Iran hasn’t scaled back its activities, Morrell said. “We go after them relentlessly,” he said. “And we have done so to great success recently, uncovering huge caches of weapons that we continue to find that are clearly being provided by the Iranians.”
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is committed to ratcheting up diplomatic, economic and military pressure on Iran to get it to stop its destabilizing activities and to abandon its nuclear ambitions, Morrell said.
“The secretary believes we should be continuing all of those pressures simultaneously and in an amplified way to make sure that Iran feels the pressure of remaining a destabilizing influence in the Middle East,” he said. “Through those pressures, he hopes to gain the leverage to ultimately, at some point, have them say, ‘Enough. We’re ready to talk about changing our ways.’”
Gates has been dealing with Iran for 40 years and “is still looking for the elusive Iranian moderate with whom we can deal rationally and constructively,” Morrell said.
And while the secretary considered the merits of reaching out to Iran in 2004 while it was under then-President Mohammad Khatami’s leadership, he sees little chance of positive exchange with Iran’s current leadership, Morrell said. Iran’s activity in Iraq was “somewhat ambivalent” under Khatami, he told reporters, but is anything but that under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “It is entirely unhelpful,” he said.
Historians will determine if not engaging with the Khatami government was a lost opportunity, Gates told retired diplomats yesterday at a meeting of the Academy of American Diplomacy in Washington.
Direct talks with Iran under Ahmadinejad’s leadership can be effective only after Iran bows to mounting international pressure and ceases its destabilizing activities, Morrell said the secretary now believes.
“With the election of Ahmadinejad and the very unambiguous role that Iran is playing in Iraq today, we need to find a way to build up some leverage with the Iranians and then sit down and talk,” Gates told the Academy of American Diplomacy. “We can't go to a discussion being completely the demander with them not feeling they need anything from us.”
The secretary has been candid about using U.S. military activities -- including the temporary presence of two aircraft carriers in the Arabian Gulf early this month -- to remind Iran of U.S. strength in the region, Morrell said.
The United States has enough military assets in the Middle East to amplify its message, but prefers to emphasize diplomatic and economic pressure first, he said.
“Obviously, we have 150-plus thousand troops in a neighboring country. We have many more troops in the region. We have ships. We have planes. We have more than enough assets,” he said. “But that is not the course of action at this point. It is an option that remains on the table.”