News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqU.S. says Iran meddles in Iraq but is delaying...

U.S. says Iran meddles in Iraq but is delaying release of data


New York Times: President Bush’s national security advisers have ordered a delay in publication of evidence intended to support Washington’s contention that Iran supplies lethal technology and other aid to militias in Iraq, senior administration officials said Thursday. The New York Times

Published: February 2, 2007

WASHINGTON, Feb. 1 — President Bush’s national security advisers have ordered a delay in publication of evidence intended to support Washington’s contention that Iran supplies lethal technology and other aid to militias in Iraq, senior administration officials said Thursday.

The decision was described by officials who were struggling to explain why American officials in Baghdad have twice canceled plans to present the evidence, delays that have raised questions about the quality of the intelligence.

Some administration officials said there was a continuing debate about how well the information proved the Bush administration’s case.

One official who has reviewed elements of the briefing said the decision to delay it — made by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser — was also motivated by concern about potentially disclosing the sources of the intelligence, and by a debate over what might be the most politically opportune moment to press the case that Iran is the source of some of the most deadly attacks on American and Iraqi forces.

Ten days ago the American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, told reporters that within a few days the United States would disclose its evidence that Iran was supplying the militias. He had been angered by an accusation by the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad that Washington had no evidence of illicit Iranian activity.

That event was put off, rescheduled for the middle of this week. The briefing was to have consisted of a PowerPoint presentation showing weapons picked up in Iraq, their serial numbers and other evidence tying them to manufacture in Iran.

But on Thursday American officials said that the briefing in Baghdad had been postponed again, until next week at the earliest, and that it had been reduced in size. For example, they said, it will not include details of evidence gathered when Iranians were seized in a raid in Baghdad at the end of December.

Some American allies who have seen some of the evidence say it still falls short of an air-tight case. But the main reason for the delay appears to be rooted in the delicate politics of dealing with Iran.

“We don’t want to create the impression that we are steaming toward confrontation,” said one senior State Department official familiar with the debate. “Some people are worried about how quickly the rhetoric has ratcheted up.”

President Bush, in an interview on Wednesday with The Wall Street Journal editorial board, said the United States had “made it clear to the Iranians that if we catch them moving weapons, they’ll be dealt with.” But he quickly added that he was not seeking to “escalate the conflict,” and said he was certain “we can solve this peacefully.”

During an interview on NPR on Thursday, R. Nicholas Burns, an under secretary of state, said that the United States had been tracking Iran’s support for Shiite militias in Iraq for approximately two years, and that “there’s been increased evidence over that time that Iran has given this kind of assistance to the Shia insurgency groups.”

The debate about how, when and whether to release the claims about Iran’s activities in Iraq is also an echo of Washington’s continuing debate about whether the administration has the credibility to make public evidence about Iran’s nuclear program — including data that it has shared with allies but not with the public.

In the most recent case, State Department officials have cautioned that the evidence must be rock-solid. The Pentagon has pressed for its release, to make clear why it is aggressively pursuing Iranians with military or paramilitary connections in Iraq.

The result has been a scramble, in which intelligence agencies have been trying to vet the Pentagon’s presentation to ensure that it does not contain claims that are not backed by solid evidence.

“We are trying to scrub this document, because the last thing we want to be accused of is cherry-picking,” said one American official familiar with the intelligence about Iran.

Some administration officials admit they are in a bind: on one hand, the longer the White House issues heated statements aimed at Iran without backing them up with facts, the more the administration’s case is called into question.

At the same time, rushing to produce a flimsy case that is ultimately discredited could be more damaging in the long run, as was the case with Colin L. Powell’s speech to the United Nations Security Council in February 2003, when he was secretary of state, outlining what he portrayed as irrefutable evidence that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons.

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