Iraq offers support for Iranian nuclear program

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BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq assured Iran on Friday that it supports Iran’s right to develop nuclear energy and will not allow Iraqi territory to be used to threaten Iran, adopting a position at odds with America’s view that Iran should abandon its nuclear program.

Speaking during a visit by the Iranian foreign minister to Iraq to congratulate the new Iraqi government formed a week ago, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Iraq’s new government “is a friendly government to Iran.”

“Iraq definitely will not be a place to threaten Iran from,” Zebari said at a news conference in Baghdad, with the Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, standing at his side.

Mottaki was the second foreign dignitary to call on Iraq’s week-old government after Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair, who visited Monday. Mottaki’s trip came as a reminder that although the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government remains beholden to the U.S.-led coalition for its existence, it also enjoys warm relations with its neighbor, Shiite Iran, and does not wish to become embroiled in the rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

Mottaki’s visit took him to the epicenter of American power in Iraq, the heavily fortified Green Zone, which is guarded by the U.S. military. Most Iraqi ministries are based there, along with the U.S. Embassy, which is housed in Saddam Hussein’s former Republican Palace.

Speaking less than a mile from the embassy at the Convention Center, where Iraq’s new government was sworn in last week in the presence of U.S. officials, Mottaki warned that Iran would retaliate against any Arab country that facilitated a U.S. attack against Iran.

“In the event that America did do this, from any place, there would be a strong hit from Iran at that place exactly,” he said, a further warning to the United States not to use the 133,000 troops currently based in Iraq to wage war on Iran.

He said he thought it doubtful the United States would attack Iran because America “was the one that was defeated” the last time it went to war. But, he added, “because sometimes wise people are not the ones in charge of taking decisions in America … we are prepared for any eventuality.”

The comments underscored Iran’s confidence in its relationship with the new Iraqi government, which groups representatives from all the major factions in Iraq but which is dominated by a coalition of Shiite religious parties who have close ties to Iran.

Iraq and Iran fought a bitter war in the 1980s, but relations have warmed significantly over the past year, since the United Iraqi Alliance took control of Iraq’s government. The Alliance groups a number of religious parties whose leaders sought exile in Iran because of their opposition to Saddam Hussein’s regime.

President Bush has refused to rule out the use of military force against Iran should negotiations fail to quell concerns that Iran’s nuclear enrichment program is being used to develop a nuclear bomb.

Mottaki also confirmed that Iran had suspended its agreement to engage in bilateral talks with the United States over the future of Iraq.

“Unfortunately, the American side tried to use this decision as propaganda and they raised some other issues, they tried to create a negative atmosphere,” he said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the U.S. still hopes the talks will go ahead.

“As far as we’re concerned it’s a channel that remains viable and open should we both need it,” he said.

The U.S. proposed the talks late last year amid growing concerns about Iranian interference in Iraq, where the rising power of Shiite militias has contributed to increasing violence.

When asked about allegations that Iran is supporting some of the militias, Zebari said he had raised “all the concerns” in his discussions with Mottaki.

Though Iraq supports Iran’s right to develop “peaceful” nuclear energy, it does not want Iran to develop nuclear weapons, Zebari said.

“Iraq respects Iran’s desire to have nuclear power, but we don’t want any of our neighbors or friends to have weapons of mass destruction,” he said.


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