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Iran Leaders Speak Out Against US.

Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the influential former Iranian president, on Jan. 15 accused the US of "seeking new adventurism" as Washington stepped up pressure on Tehran over its nuclear programme and Iraq. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed concern that the US was fostering sectarianism.

Meeting Sunni and Shi'ite clerics, Khamenei stressed that unity between Islam's two sects was needed to prevent "these governments" - a reference to Sunni Arab regimes - "taking refuge" with the US and Britain. Iranian warnings came as Ali Larijani, the country's top security official, held meetings in Riyadh in an apparent attempt to gauge the level of Saudi support for Washington's tougher policy towards Tehran. The trip came a day before US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Saudi Arabia - the most powerful Sunni country - for talks on President George W. Bush's new Iraq plan.

The so-called "way forward" for Iraq includes a surge of 21,500 extra troops to pacify Baghdad and increased pressure on Iran, which Washington accuses of fomenting unrest in Iraq through its support for Shi'ite armed groups. Ms Rice's regional tour is partly designed to cement a regional front against Shi'ite Iran at a time when Sunni Arab states are expressing rising alarm over Iranian influence in the region.

In December the six GCC states ordered a study into a possible civilian nuclear programme, a move which was seen as a warning to Western governments to deal with Iran's programme or face a regional arms race. In Cairo on Jan. 15 Ms Rice appeared to have won backing for the Iraq strategy from Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Aboul-Gheit, who said Egypt "hopes it is put into force in order to achieve stability in Iraq". Referring to Iran, Aboul-Gheit said "regional forces should refrain from interfering within the Iraqi domestic front".

The new US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates on Jan. 15 said the US was increasing military activity in the Gulf in response to what he called Tehran's "very negative behaviour". At NATO's Brussels headquarters, Gates told reporters: "The Iranians clearly believe we are tied down in Iraq, that they have the initiative, that they're in a position to press us in many ways".

The US is sending Patriot missile units to the GCC, to guard against possible Iranian rocket attacks, as well as a second aircraft carrier and support ships.

Gates said: "The Iranians are acting in a very negative way in many respects. They are doing nothing to be constructive in Iraq at this point". But he did not exclude the possibility of future negotiations with Tehran, saying: "My view is that when the Iranians are prepared to play a constructive role in dealing with some of these problems, then there might be opportunities for engagement".

As part of its containment efforts, the US is tightening financial sanctions against Iran and asking its allies to go beyond the limited sanctions agreed in a UN resolution last month. Reuters quoted US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns as saying: "We would encourage other countries - European countries, the EU, Japan - to consider stronger sanctions than were in the Security Council resolution. There are billions of euros of export credits available to European countries from their governments to encourage trade with Iran" that could be curtailed.

Tehran, however, on Jan. 15 indicated it would not heed UNSC calls for a suspension by the end of February of its uranium enrichment programme, the most sensitive part of its nuclear experiments. Iranian government spokesman Gholam-Hossein Elham claimed Iran would soon increase from 330 to 3,000 the number of centrifuges it uses to enrich uranium.

Tehran rejected US claims that five nationals seized by US forces in northern Iraq recently were part of an IRGC group providing weapons to Iraqi armed organisations. But Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari cast doubt on the US assertions, saying the individuals arrested were members of a liaison bureau and had been working from an office in Erbil, northern Iraq, for 10 years, providing consular services.
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Title Annotation:Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
Publication:APS Diplomat News Service
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:Jan 22, 2007
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