Iran 'benefiting from war on terror'

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Iran's influence in the Middle East has been bolstered by America's so-called war on terror, according to a new report.

The report, by researchers at think-tank the Royal Institute for International Studies in London - also known as Chatham House - says: "There is little doubt that Iran has been the chief beneficiary of the war on terror in the Middle East.

"The United States, with Coalition support, has eliminated two of Iran's regional rival governments - the Taliban in Afghanistan in November 2001 and Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq in April 2003 - but has failed to replace either with coherent and stable political structures."

The report, called Iran, Its Neighbours And Regional Crises, adds that the recent conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza and between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon have added to that instability.

One of the report's authors, Dr Ali Ansari, reader in modern history at the University of St Andrews, told Radio Four: "The United States needs to take a step back and reassess its entire policy towards Iran and work out, first of all, what does it want and how is it going to achieve it because at the moment everything is rather like putting a sticking plaster on a fairly raw wound and it is not really actually doing much at all."

The report, in its executive summary, says Iran has now superseded America as the most influential power in the Middle East.

"Iran is simply too important - for political, economic, cultural, religions and military reasons - to be treated lightly by any state in the Middle East or indeed Asia," it says.

It says the wars and instability in Afghanistan and Iraq have "further strengthened Iran", adding that: "The US-driven agenda for confronting Iran is severely compromised by the confident ease with which Iran sits in its region."

Concerning Iran's apparent attempts to develop nuclear weapons, the report says the country's importance in the region "helps explain why Iran feels able to resist western pressure".

"While the US and Europeans slowly grind the nuclear issue through the mills of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Security Council, Iran continues to prevaricate, feeling confident of victory as conditions turn ever more in its favour," it says.