White House Approach to Iran Stirs Concerns
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NPR's national security correspondent Jackie Northam reports.
JACKIE NORTHAM: To be sure, the Bush administration has always been vocal about its disapproval of Iran's nuclear ambitions and its meddling in neighboring Iraq. But on January 10th, when President Bush unveiled his latest strategy for Iraq, he signaled a new, tougher position on Iran.
GEORGE W: I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region. We will expand intelligence sharing and deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies.
NORTHAM: Gary Sick, a professor at Columbia University's Middle East Institute, says he's surprised how quickly the rhetoric and actions have developed. Sick says it's difficult to figure out the administration's strategy, but it appears it wants to accomplish two things.
GARY SICK: First of all, to change the subject as much as possible from Iraq, which is a catastrophe, to Iran, which is not yet a catastrophe. And basically to distract, I think, attention from that and to change the subject.
NORTHAM: Sick says the other apparent goal is to help win back support of primarily Sunni allies in the Middle East - those that have watched as a Shiite government was installed in Iraq, a government that has ties to Iran. Sick says that has upset the balance in the region.
SICK: It's to build a new coalition where, basically, our friends were getting very shaky and were wondering what we were up to. They were in fact blaming us for consorting with the Shia and putting them in charge of the Middle East.
NORTHAM: Professor Ali Ansari, the director of the Institute of Iranian Studies at Scotland's St. Andrews University, says the situation is so tense right now that even a simple misunderstanding could ignite the whole region.
ALI ANSARI: By raising the tension, by raising the level of armed forces in the region, even if both sides aren't interested in a military conflict, you're increasing the likelihood that an accident or escalation is going to take place.
NORTHAM: But Ray Takeyh, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, says Iran sees the U.S. as being vulnerable.
RAY TAKEYH: The Iranian position is that the United States is a weakened power, it is a discredited power, and therefore American power is something that they don't seem to respect. It's dangerous for Iran to have this level of disregard for American power.
NORTHAM: Columbia University's Gary Sick says there is only so long Tehran can watch and do nothing while the U.S. increases its posture and rhetoric.
SICK: Our policy is quite provocative, and the Iranians have ways of reacting to this that are in many cases very unpleasant. If the Iranians really tried to organize the militias - instead of fighting the Sunnis to begin fighting the Americans full force - we would see an increase in American bloodshed in the region that really would be quite stunning.
NORTHAM: Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.
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