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World: U.S. Strategy Toward Iran And Iraq Remains Unchanged

Washington, 10 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - The State Department says nothing has happened in the Persian Gulf to warrant a change in the U.S. dual containment strategy aimed at isolating both Iraq and Iran.

The suggestion that a policy shift might be in order was raised at Thursday's State Department press briefing. The premise was that the U.S. and Iran might be able to find a common ground because of the ascent of a reportedly more moderate regime in Teheran and because of tensions between Iran and Iraq, who fought a devastating but inconclusive war between 1980 and 1988.

However, State Department Spokesman James Rubin dismissed the idea. He said: "we intend ... to continue to do all we can to convince the rest of the world that Iran's policies on weapons of mass destruction, on support of terrorism, and on opposition to the Middle East peace process are a danger and ought to be confronted through the kind of measures that the United States has taken and that money and assistance and trade and normal relationships don't send the proper message to Iran that their behavior needs to change. "

Rubin concedes that the U.S. does not have unqualified support from its friends and allies for its policy on Iran, but the U.S. position, he says, is not about to change.

The U.S. broke diplomatic relations with Iran in April 1980, about six months after Islamic militants in Teheran seized the U.S. embassy and took more than 50 Americans hostage.

The U.S. considers Iran a sponsor of international terrorism. A law passed by the U.S. Senate in 1995 gives the U.S. president power to impose unilateral sanctions against foreign firms that make investments in Iran's -- and Libya's -- energy sectors.

That law is still the focus of a dispute between the U.S. and the European Union because of the French oil firm Total's partnership with Russia and Malaysia in a $2 billion deal with Iran to develop a Persian Gulf natural gas field.

Rubin says the U.S. has not yet decided whether to impose sanctions or waive them. He says the U.S. is still investigating the technical details of the deal.

Tensions between Iran and Iraq, which was defeated by a U.S.-led international coalition after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, are also not enough to change U.S. policy, Rubin says.

Last week, Iranian jets struck Iraqi bases of the Iranian opposition Mujahedeen group. Iraqi aircraft that rose to defend the area violated zones where their aircraft are forbidden to fly. And U.S. defense officials say Iraqi jets also continue to fly into the southern zone of Iraq, where they are also forbidden to fly, to test U.S. ability to patrol the area.

Iran announced Tuesday that it intends to begin 10 days of naval maneuvers this week, coinciding with the expected arrival of the U.S. aircraft carrier Nimitz.

The U.S. dispatched an aircraft carrier group to the Persian Gulf last week to monitor developments. The United States maintains about 20 combat and support ships in the gulf at all times. The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain.

U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said Thursday the U.S. has tightened air control over the "no-fly" zones in Iraq. He said Iraqi warplanes will "bear the consequences" if they continue to violate them.

"We have taken measures to tighten the area around which they seem intent on seeking to exploit on a very quick and piecemeal basis. If they make a mistake, they will have to bear the consequences," said Cohen.

At the State Department, Rubin said there was no need for the U.S. to coordinate naval exercises with Iran.

"We do have means to communicate with Iran diplomatically if there is a requirement to do so. And that is no secret. But we do not believe that these routine exercises and the deployment of our battle group is one of those circumstances," said Rubin.

Finally, Rubin summed up the U.S. gulf policy: "We continue to contain Iraq, and we continue to contain Iran, because it's in our national security interest to do so."