ALEX CHADWICK, host:
From NPR West, this is Day to Day, I'm Alex Chadwick.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
I'm Madeleine Brand. Remember those hanging chads from the 2000 election? Well, coming up, new voting controversies in Florida.
CHADWICK: First, we're going to welcome back NPR diplomatic correspondent Mike Shuster, who covers Iran, a country that is again the subject of militant talk from Washington. Mike, greetings to you.
MIKE SHUSTER: Hi, Alex.
CHADWICK: So the people who have had tough remarks about Iran in the last week, ten days, include Defense Secretary Robert Gates, General David Petraeus, who's running the war in Iraq, and Mike Mullen, who is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Just review what they say.
SHUSTER: And President Bush, as well. When you put all these statements together, essentially it feels, again, like the level of belligerency towards Iran, but specifically towards Iran and its activities in Iraq, is on the rise. Basically, what they're all saying is that they believe there has been an increased pace of Iranian funding, training, and arming of what they call special groups, which are the more militant militias that have been active in Iraq, particularity in Basra, during the fight a few weeks ago in Basra and in Sadr City in east Baghdad. Now, these special groups are generally believed, although not by everybody, to be connected to the Mahdi army of Muqtada al-Sadr. And so, essentially, the allegation is that the Iranians are increasing the pace of arming and infiltrating fighters of these groups, and that they are sowing the mayhem in Iraq, and they are also killing American troops.
CHADWICK: The comments that I was struck by particularly came Friday from Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, because he said then, make no mistake, we could get into another conflict in this region. We have the resources to do that, even though the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Gates, had said a few days earlier, another war in this region would be disastrous for us. But the nation's chief military officer seemed to say, we need to go into Iran? No problem.
SHUSTER: Well, yeah, he said that there were operational plans. The United States, in this respect, seems to be trying to use belligerent talk to affect the behavior of the Iranians in Iraq. It seems unlikely that the United States is preparing to engage in military activity against Iran, although it's threatening to. And it seems this belligerent talk is just meant to affect the behavior of the Iranians. It is not clear that it will.
CHADWICK: In the, sort of, the deck of cards in that region, the Syria card showed up this last week. Also, more information about this building that was bombed by the Israelis back in September. U.S. intelligence now says it believes that was a nuclear reactor under construction. Do the Syrians have anything going on here?
SHUSTER: The Syrians deny that it was a nuclear reactor. There are pictures of this facility. Skeptical experts now seem to think that it may have been a reactor of some kind. The question is whether it was ready for operation, which the United States intelligence community claimed that it was, and there are a lot of questions being raised about whether it truly was ready for operation and therefore needed to be bombed by the Israelis. There are a lot of questions being raised, as well, about whether this could have been taken care of through the International Atomic Energy Agency and diplomatic pressure on Syria.
CHADWICK: Is it a coincidence that the Syria question and issue comes out in the same week when there is this pretty tough talk about Iran?
SHUSTER: Probably not. One of the issues involved with the Syria- North Korea connection and the bombing that the Israelis carried out was whether it was a message ultimately to Iran. And maybe these two sets of facts that we are talking about are related in trying to send a message to Iran that the United States is going to be tough in Iraq and on the nuclear issue, even though action, precise action, military or otherwise to affect Iranian behavior is not so clear.
CHADWICK: I asked you a couple of weeks ago, when we last talked about this, if there is a war gage, where has that needle been pointing. You said you didn't think it had moved much in the month before then. What do you think in the last two weeks?
SHUSTER: I still don't think it has moved much. I think this is a lot of talk and pressure, but I don't think that the U.S. military in Iraq is ready to hit Iran in any sense.
CHADWICK: NPR diplomatic correspondent Mike Shuster with us again. Mike, thank you.
SHUSTER: You're welcome, Alex.
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CHADWICK: We've got Marketplace in just a moment on Day to Day.
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