Posted by AssyriansVote4Peace from dialup-220.127.116.11.Dial1.LosAngeles1.Level3.net (18.104.22.168) on Saturday, October 12, 2002 at 1:00AM :
Teheran backs UN-approved attack on Iraq
By Anton La Guardia, Diplomatic Editor in Teheran
Iran has given its blessing to war against Iraq as long as it is endorsed by the United Nations, according to British and Iranian officials.
Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, found a receptive ear in Teheran yesterday, belying the animosity that has frequently bedevilled relations between the two countries.
In talks with senior Iranian leaders, British officials said Mr Straw began to discuss the "day after" - what happens in Iraq once Saddam has fallen - and how Iran's interests could be "looked after".
In public, the Iranian foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi, said Iran wanted a peaceful solution and said nothing to endorse Mr Straw's argument that only a credible threat of force can convince Saddam Hussein to disarm.
"We say we are against war and we feel that through diplomatic means, and through the United Nations, we can solve the issue and we can force Iraq to give up weapons of mass destruction."
In private, however, there are growing signs that Iran will not stand in the way of US-led action against its long-standing foe.
One senior Iranian diplomat said: "We have known for a long time that Saddam is evil but the West did not listen to us and supported Saddam instead. The West only learnt the lesson after the invasion of Kuwait. Still, if you get a UN resolution, you can go to war."
Teheran has declared it would pursue a policy of "active neutrality" in a conflict in Iraq.
One senior British source predicted that the Iranians already assumed war was inevitable. But Iran still harbours deep doubts about the prospect of military action in Iraq after the war in Afghanistan removed the Taliban in Afghanistan on its eastern border.
"The Iranians are schizophrenic about this. On the one hand, they hate Saddam. On the other, an attack on Iraq just adds to their feeling of encirclement and their sense of having no natural allies in the region.
Moreover, Iran fears it may be next in the sights of America's generals because President George W Bush this year declared that Iran was part of a global "axis of evil" along with Iraq and North Korea. "Iran was very helpful during the war in Afghanistan but all we got was the axis of evil speech," complained the Iranian diplomat.
"This time we will not be so helpful and we will have to look after our own interests. For example, Iran should also get compensation for the war that Iraq started, like Kuwait."
"The Iranians want reassurance but in many ways they can help themselves," said a senior British source. "They have a nuclear programme, and have to provide reassurances about that."
Mr Straw met President Mohammad Khatami and had a rare meeting with Hassan Rouhani, the powerful secretary of the Supreme National Council, the country's main security body.
Mr Straw is likely to have heard Iran's concerns, including the return of Iranian prisoners of war, the status of the disputed Shatt al-Arab waterway and the need to safeguard the interests of Iraq's majority Shi'ite population.
Mr Straw said he wanted a "constructive" dialogue with Iran but hardliners greeted his visit with hostility. Teheran has become the capital most visited by Mr Straw after Washington and Brussels.
The trip was made possible by Britain's decision to back down in a diplomatic row with Iran over the appointment of a new British ambassador.
The hardline daily Jomhoori-e Islami said Iranians "hated" Britain and regarded its officials as "cunning enemies". However, Mr Straw and Mr Kharrazi made a show of friendship as they appeared at a joint press conference.
Mr Straw lashed out at American Christian "fundamentalists" as he denounced comments by the Rev Jerry Falwell, who was quoted this week as describing the Prophet Muhammad as a "terrorist".
Mr Straw said Mr Falwell was "well-known but not important". He added: "I regard his remarks, if they were reported correctly, as outrageous and insulting."
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