Iran Reacts to the Iraq Study Group Report

Reaction in Iran to the Iraq Study Group report has been one of mild satisfaction. Analysts in Iran are pleased to see a recognition of Iran's role in bringing security to Iraq. But the Iranian government is divided over how to approach relations with the U.S.

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Mr. LEE HAMILTON (Co-Chairman, Iraq Study Group): We will be criticized, I'm sure, for talking with our adversaries, but I do not see how you solve these problems without talking to them.

INSKEEP: That's Lee Hamilton, co-chairman of a commission that proposed a new way forward in Iraq. A key part of the Iraq Study Group plan involves Iraq's neighbors, and we'll examine that part of the report this morning. The plan calls on the U.S. to talk with Iran and Syria. Both are seen as influential within Iraq. The Bush administration has dismissed such talks, but this week a State Department official, Phillip Zelikow, told NPR the Bush administration is willing, under certain circumstances.

Mr. PHILLIP ZELIKOW (State Department Official): It's not a theological question for the administration, as many people think it is. In principle, the administration is ready to talk to people who can make a positive difference. And so the question, when you look at Iran and Syria, is: is there something that talks could accomplish that would make a positive difference?

INSKEEP: Let's pose that question in the capitals of Syria and Iran. We begin in Tehran, where NPR's Mike Shuster is on the line. And Mike, has there been any response at all from Iran's government to this proposal that Iran be engaged more thoroughly on Iraq?

MIKE SHUSTER: In terms of official response - that is, from the official leaders of Iran - no, there's been nothing but silence, although the newspapers here have been filled with reports about the group's recommendations. And in the newspaper reports, there's been a certain amount of gloating from analysts who are writing about this, about how the United States needs Iran to find a way out of Iraq.

The papers actually are focused much more on a different set of talks that are taking place in Europe about the possibility of sanctioning Iran for its nuclear activities and the difficulties the members of the Security Council plus Germany are having in coming together on that. Still, there are some comments of Iran's leaders about the study group's potential conclusions before it came out that might - that suggest how Iran will respond.

INSKEEP: What comments?

SHUSTER: Well, the supreme religious leader, Ali Khamenei, has said it's time for the United States to withdraw from Iraq. The head of Iran's national security council said in Dubai earlier this week that Iran would be willing to help and talk to the United States if there was a clear indication, possibly a timetable, for the American withdrawal. Under those circumstances, he said, Iran would be willing to discuss the matter. But clearly, Steve, here there's no rush to help the United States out, and there are some doubts about what Iran really can do, especially to quell the Sunni insurgents. There are really very different positions in Iran, even among government leaders, about what the United States ought to do in Iraq.

INSKEEP: Just to clarify that, you've got Shiites in Iraq, many of whom have connections to Iran, but then you have Sunni Muslim groups and insurgents who do not necessarily have such close connections to Iran. Now let me just ask. The Baker Commission, the Iraq Study Group, seems to say that Iran has an interest in stabilizing Iraq and that Iran should help for that reason alone. Is Iran likely to demand more than that, though, from the United States, in exchange for help?

SHUSTER: Certainly. Many leaders of the Iranian government do see the needs for stability in Iraq in order to help the Shiite government there, which is friendly to Iran, to stabilize itself. On the other hand, there are these other issues, particularly the nuclear issue, with the United States. And it's likely that under any circumstances in which the United States tries to engage with Iran about the chaos in Iraq, the Iranians are likely to want to exact a price on the nuclear issue. So it's going to be difficult, at least looking at what the Iranians are saying, it's going to be difficult to separate what's going on in Iraq and the nuclear issue for Iran.

INSKEEP: Do Iran's leaders have differing views on this subject, as they seem to have on so many others?

SHUSTER: Oh, no question. There are conservatives who want the United States to withdraw. There are some conservatives who want the United States to stay because they see the United States bogged down in a quagmire and therefore unable to attack Iran, as some have suggested. There are moderates who want the United States to stay in Iraq to stabilize the government. There's a whole realm of opinion. I think it's fairly safe to say there is not consensus in Tehran among the key power leaders in Iran about what the United States ought to do in Iraq and what - and ways in which Iran may hinder or help that.

INSKEEP: Okay, thanks very much. That's NPR's Mike Shuster reporting today from Tehran.

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