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US dismantles anti-Iran body, seen as sign of a major shift in US policy

The Bush administration has quietly dismantled a special committee established last year to coordinate aggressive actions against Iran and Syria, the State Department said.

US dismantles anti-Iran body, seen as sign of a major shift in US policy
The Bush administration has quietly dismantled a special committee established last year to coordinate aggressive actions against Iran and Syria, the State Department said.

Nicholas Burns, the State Department's under secretary for political affairs, revealed in a written statement to a senator that the group was disbanded in March in "favour of a more standard process" of coordinating between the White House, the State Department, Defence Department and intelligence agencies.

Burns' statement came in a written response to questions submitted last week by Senator Robert Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat.

The group had become the focus for administration critics who feared that it was plotting covert actions that could escalate into a military conflict with Iran or Syria. The group, established in March 2006, was modelled after a similar special committee on Iraq, created before the US invasion.

Disbanding of the group was seen in Washington as a sign of a major shift in US policy towards Iran and Syria. The group used to have weekly meetings throughout 2006 to plan actions such as curtailing Tehran's access to credit and banking institutions, organising the sale of military equipment to Iran's neighbours and backing forces that oppose Tehran and Damascus.

Shortly before the disbanding, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice launched a diplomatic outreach to engage Iran and Syria in a regional effort to bring stability to war-torn Iraq, reversing a longstanding US policy against high-level contact with the two states.

Rice met Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem earlier this month at a summit in Egypt in the first high-level talks between the two countries since 2004 and described the meeting as constructive.

On Monday, the US and Iran held their first direct talks in Baghdad after 27 years. Although after the talks, both sides accused each other of contributing to Iraq's instability, a prominent US lawmaker welcomed the talks as the beginning of a much-needed process to reduce tensions between the two countries.

"I think it's very important, and at the end of the day we want to know that every remedy, every diplomatic remedy has been exhausted," said Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives.

Other observers noted that at the Baghdad meeting, Iran proposed a three-party group to address violence in Iraq, which could be a basis for further talks. But they also warned that differences between Iran and the US were too many and too deep-rooted to be resolved in one or two meetings.

They pointed out that major differences - such as Washington's efforts to undo Iran's nuclear programme and Iranian fears that the Bush administration will seek a regime change in Tehran - were not included in the narrow agenda for Baghdad talks.

Washington and its allies are deeply unnerved by growing Iranian influence in the Middle East and also object to Iran's continued opposition of the Israeli state.

Other issues vitiating the atmosphere include US Navy exercises in the Persian Gulf last week and tough talk from President Bush about new UN penalties over the Iranian nuclear programme.

Iran said on Saturday it had uncovered spy rings organized by the United States and its Western allies for creating troubles inside the country. Iran also accuses the US of improperly seizing five Iranians in Iraq this spring. The US military is holding the five. Iran says they are diplomats; Washington contends they are intelligence agents.

Source: AKI and Dawn
Last Mod: 29 Mayıs 2007, 13:45
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