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ARAB US RELATIONS - Feb 21 - Petraeus Warns Iran Against Extremism.

US General David Petraeus urges Iran to stop backing extremist groups that contribute to ongoing violence in Iraq, and said the US is watching Tehran "very, very closely". The commander of the region that includes both countries also told a US-Islamic world forum in Qatar that the US is looking for signs that Iran is willing to co-operate, echoing gestures of openness expressed by the Obama administration. However, he was firm when asked what concrete steps Iran could take to improve relations. Foremost on his list was that there be an end to the "training, equipping, funding of extremist elements" in the region, particularly in Iraq. "It was not just Sunni extremists that were tearing apart the country. This was a cycle of Sunni-on-Shi'ite, and Shi'ite-on-Sunni", he said in an allusion to Iran's support for Shi'ite groups. "One of the elements fuelling that violence was indeed the assistance provided by Iran", he continued. "There is absolutely no question about this, and there is also no question that some of this does continue to this day". Iran has consistently denied the charge. Attacks against US troops in Shi'ite areas of Iraq have fallen off sharply. In December the Pentagon said Iran was no longer supplying a lethal brand of armour-piercing roadside bombs, which US officials said suggested a strategic shift by Iran's leadership. Speaking at the same forum, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright called the war in Iraq a "great disaster for American foreign policy". "I am concerned about what Iraq has done to America's reputation", she said. "I have been very worried about what the war in Iraq did in order to enhance the power of Iran". The three-day forum, which began on Feb 21, is being sponsored by the Qatar government and the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think-tank. Petraeus assumed control of US Central Command (Centcom), which oversees US military operations across the Middle East and Central Asia, on October 31 last year. His command encompasses Iran as well as US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Centcom is based in Tampa, Florida. However, it maintains a substantial presence in Qatar, a tiny, energy-rich Arab state that also maintains ties with neighbor Iran. The two countries share a vast natural gas field under the Persian Gulf. Petraeus' comments on Iran followed a speech, peppered with Arabic greetings, in which he highlighted efforts by the US and its Middle Eastern allies to strengthen collective security in the region. He repeatedly alluded to an address Vice President Joe Biden gave a week earlier. In that speech, Biden warned that the US stands ready to take pre-emptive action against Iran if it does not abandon its nuclear ambitions and its support for terrorism, but also declared the US open for talks with Iran and Russia to repair relations.

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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:Feb 21, 2009
Words:466
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