Leading article: Accusations, denials and a weird form of diplomacy

Share
Related Topics

The best that can be said of the latest exchanges between the United States and Iran is that a dialogue is being conducted - albeit of a bizarre variety. On Sunday, US officials presented what they said was proof that Iran was directly involved in supplying weapons to Shia militias in Iraq. Yesterday, the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, responded in an interview with the US television channel ABC. He categorically denied the charges, accused the US of form in the fabrication of evidence, and said - by the by - that Tehran was prepared to talk.

These are perilous days in US-Iranian relations, as they are for Iraq and the region as a whole, with many different aspects simultaneously coming to a head. The new US commander in Iraq, Lt-Gen David Patraeus, has just taken over; his unenviable task is to impose security on Baghdad with the help of additional US forces. The UN deadline for Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment programme falls next week.

President Bush is under pressure at home from anti-war feeling and the new Democratic majority in Congress. Mr Ahmadinejad's position was weakened by electoral losses late last year. And the slaughter in Iraq continues: more than 76 people were killed in Baghdad yesterday in apparently co-ordinated bombings.

This is the context for the latest US allegations against Iran. It may, or may not, be relevant. Claims that Iran has been helping Shia militants in Iraq are not new. They were made 18 months ago by British diplomats in Iraq, who said Iranian-made devices were being used in the south. US officials have gone a step further. They produced parts of explosive devices they said originated in Iran, and they linked them to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and thence to the top Iranian leadership. They also implicated the five Iranians arrested in Arbil recently.

For all the care taken by the US to bolster its case - the weeks of delay in presenting it, the minute detail, the show of weapons parts - the presentation at the weekend was disturbingly reminiscent of the claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction that turned out not to exist. There was a similar lack of proof that the Iranian authorities were the direct suppliers and a similarly worrying insistence on anonymity for the briefers. If the "evidence" turns out to have been misleading, there will be no one identifiable to blame.

Even if the devices seem to be Iranian in design and manufacture, there are other plausible explanations, not least the close association between the Iranian and Iraqi Shias at grassroots level and the fact that many Shia militants were formerly exiled in Iran. It is also pertinent to ask why the US is pointing the finger at Iran and Iraq's Shias, when the insurgents doing most damage to US troops and the US-backed Iraqi government are not Shia, but the Sunnis who lost power with Saddam Hussein. Is the US administration using Iran as a scapegoat for its own failings in Iraq? Is it softening up international opinion for another show of military force?

Given the complaisance with which almost every part of the US establishment accepted the official line on Saddam's non-existent weapons, it is gratifying to observe that this time around senior Democrats in Congress have declined to take the administration at its word. They are treating the case against Iran with due scepticism, warning that resort to a military solution would be a grave mistake. Late yesterday, the international nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, the Germans (who hold the presidency of the EU) and the Iranians were all hinting at the possibilities for further diplomacy. So far, at least, this strange multilateral conversation has not been completely a dialogue of the deaf.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Manager (App development, SAP, interfacing)

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum + excellent company benefits: Clearwater People Solu...

Systems Developer Technical Lead

£65000 - £70000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

Energy Engineer

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy En...

Techincal Accountant-Insurance-Bank-£550/day

£475 - £550 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Technical Accountant-Insuran...

Day In a Page

A selection of 'Pro-Choice' badges are displayed on the coat of a demonstrator during a march from the Garden of Remembrance to the Dail (Irish Parliament) in Dublin, Ireland  

Ireland's refusal to provide a safe abortion to a suicidal rape victim is a national shame

Peadar O‘Grady
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment