Iran a Stabilizing Force in Iraq, Iranian Official Says

At an annual security conference in Munich, top Iranian official Ali Larijani said his country has been a stabilizing force in Iraq. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates also addressed the conference Sunday, responding to Saturday's tongue-lashing from Russian president Vladimir Putin.

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EMILY HARRIS: I'm Emily Harris in Munich at the security conference here this weekend. A top Iranian official acknowledged that Tehran has a strong interest in the affairs of its next-door neighbor. Ali Larijani was speaking here through an interpreter.

Mr. ALI LARIJANI (Iranian Negotiator): We do not deny that we have influence. All the Iraqi leaders are our friends - Shia, Sunni, Kurds. We do not send no forces to Iraq, but we are ready to help with the establishment of security and development in Iraq.

HARRIS: Larijani did not directly address the accusations raised today in Baghdad that fragments of exploded IEDs have markings showing they're from Iran. Senator Joseph Lieberman attended the conference and told NPR he'd been briefed on the evidence. He said it shows Iranians...

Senator JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (Republican, Connecticut): Have very close relations with some of the militias, particularly the Shia militias, and that they have a very aggressive game plan in Iraq.

HARRIS: On whether the Iranian government should be held responsible for the IEDs, Lieberman said...

Senator LIEBERMAN: I don't know enough to say that yet.

HARRIS: Larijani's speech focused mainly on Iran's nuclear program. He said his country has every right as a party to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to pursue nuclear power to generate electricity. He said the demands that Iran stop enriching uranium was like punishing an expected criminal before a crime. Larijani said Iran is no threat to Israel, despite the president's past comments that Israel should be wiped off the map. In fact, Larijani said Iran does not want any unconventional weapons.

Mr. LARIJANI: We clearly have announced that in our defense doctrine there is no place for chemical warfare or nuclear weapons. The leader of the revolution, Ayotollah Khomenei, has given fatwa that using weapons of mass destruction is unlawful, harum.

HARRIS: Larijani said Iran could answer all of the U.N.'s nuclear oversight agency's questions within three weeks, and the whole issue could be resolved through talks.

Larijani met later with European officials in Munich. Both sides said afterwards more discussion was needed. American officials in Munich were generally unimpressed by Larijani's speech. Defense Secretary Robert Gates had no comment.

Mr. ROBERT GATES (U.S. Defense Secretary): Didn't hear it.

HARRIS: Did you (unintelligible)

Mr. GATES: No, I don't.

HARRIS: Gates's own speech only touched on Iran. He said the country is seeking nuclear weapons. Gates spent more time responding to the conference's Saturday surprise, Russian President Vladimir Putin blasting the U.S.'s post-Cold War foreign policy as unipolar and dangerous.

President VLADIMIR PUTIN (Russia): (Through translator) One state and primarily the United States has overstep its national borders and in every area - in economy, in politics, in humanitarian - are imposed by one state. Who will may like that? This is very dangerous. It leads to the situation where nobody feels secure anymore. Of course such policy is a catalyst of the arms race - the new domination, of the factor of force is nourishing the thrust of countries to get weapons of mass destruction.

HARRIS: Putin defended Russia's sale of an air defense system to Iran as a way to keep the country from feeling cornered in what Putin called a hostile environment. Putin also complained about U.S. plans to put part of its missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, and he complained about new forward bases in Romania and Bulgaria.

President PUTIN: (Through translator) It is evident that the process of NATO expansion has nothing to do with the modernization of the alliance and the provision of security in Europe. On the contrary, it's a serious factor that's reducing the level of mutual trust, and we have the right to ask against whom this expansion is aimed.

HARRIS: Gates responded in his speech today first with humor.

Mr. GATES: As an old cold warrior, one of yesterday's speeches almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GATES: Almost.

HARRIS: Gates noted that he and Putin share a past as spies.

Mr. GATES: However, I've been to re-education camp.

HARRIS: Gates later said he doesn't believe the U.S. is in a new cold war with Russia.

Mr. GATES: I think that Russia is an important partner in addressing a number of issues. That also means speaking candidly to one another when we have concerns about decisions and behavior.

HARRIS: On NATO, Gates was more concerned that the alliance could fail to stabilize Afghanistan if NATO members don't provide more troops and money. He told the mostly European audience to live up to its commitments.

Emily Harris, NPR News, Munich.

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