STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now the U.S. is negotiating with North Korea at the same time it's confronting Iran.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

U.S. officials over the weekend laid out for reporters what they called evidence that Iran is supplying sophisticated weapons to Iraq's Shiites. On a couple of tables, officials in Baghdad spread out rocket-propelled grenades with serial numbers that they said linked the weapons to Iranian factories; and also a particularly deadly roadside bomb called an EFP or Explosively Formed Penetrator. Iran has denied these accusations.

To sort through the evidence we turn to Bruce Riedel, he's now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and formerly he was a CIA officer.

Thanks for joining us.

Mr. BRUCE RIEDEL (Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution): Thank you very much.

MONTAGNE: Let's just get right down to it. You've seen pictures of the weapons. Are they really made in Iran?

Mr. RIEDEL: Well I know the forensics that we would use to review this kind of data, and it's very good kind of information we can produce. Now no one has gotten a chance to study the forensics so far. What we have at this point is the briefing provided and the conclusions drawn from that by the military intelligence analysts in Baghdad.

Normally, military intelligence should be able to do a fine job of producing that kind of evidence. The problem the Bush administration has is that it distorted intelligence so many times in the past, no one is going to give them a free pass on this.

MONTAGNE: What is the evidence that exists that are on weapons from Iran have come into Iraq?

Mr. RIEDEL: British army sources have been saying for over a year that they have found evidence of explosives and weapons coming in to support some of the Shia groups in the south from Iran. I think the British evidence has shown up to be pretty credible so far. But what it has suggested is a very small percentage of the over all attacks on coalition forces, since most to the attacks come from Sunni groups. We haven't seen any information from the administration that suggests the Iranians are supporting this Sunni insurgency.

If they are now suggesting that the Shia are becoming increasingly active against our forces, that's bad news as well. Because that means we are now really caught between both sides of a civil war.

MONTAGNE: But isn't that some sort of circumstantial evidence, if the Shias have these powerful roadside bombs, that they're coming in some sense from the direction of Iran?

Mr. RIEDEL: Right. If the Shias are getting these kinds of weapons, they're probably are getting some assistance from the Iranians, because the Iranians have longstanding relationships with every Shia politician, warlord, and militia in the country. One of the things that we're seeing here is a little bit of the end game in Iraq, which is that Iran is going to be the dominant power in that country when this war is over.

MONTAGNE: Now, the U.S. did not, and has not yet provided any proof for its accusation that the Iranian government, at the highest levels, is actually sending these weapons into Iraq. Is there any evidence that this is happening out there?

Mr. RIEDEL: It's interesting that they're not claiming that the highest levels of the Iranian government are supporting this at this stage. They're fudging that issue a little bit still, suggesting that maybe this is Iranian elements in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. They are not yet been able to pin a finger putting it to Ahmadinejad.

MONTAGNE: Do you know of any evidence of how these weapons do get into Iraq?

Mr. RIEDEL: It would be fairly easy to get weapons into Iraq from Iran. The border is almost completely unguarded on the Iraqi side. Almost anything you want can be smuggled from Iran into Iraq, and vice versa.

MONTAGNE: So it wouldn't need special help from the Iranian government?

Mr. RIEDEL: It would not be a particularly sophisticated intelligence operation to smuggle weapons into Iraq from Iran these days. It would not take a first-class James Bond to do it.

MONTAGNE: Now, these weapons have been showing up since 2004, especially these EFPs, these Explosively Formed Penetrator. Why the drumbeat in this last few weeks?

Mr. RIEDEL: I think there are probably two reasons. One, the controversy over Iran's nuclear program is increasingly coming to a head. The deadline for the U.N. resolution to put additional sanctions is coming up only in a few days. And secondly, I think the administration is searching for new ways to persuade the American people why we need to stay in Iraq.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. RIEDEL: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Bruce Riedel is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He's also a former CIA officer.

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