News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqPM using troop pullout to distance himself from Bush,...

PM using troop pullout to distance himself from Bush, Iran claims

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The Guardian: Iran has warmly welcomed Gordon Brown’s pledge to withdraw 1,000 British troops from southern Iraq by the end of the year, claiming the move represents an attempt by him to break a US stranglehold on British foreign policy. The Guardian

· Tehran welcomes cut in numbers in southern Iraq
· Media claim Brown trying to boost election chances

Simon Tisdall

Iran has warmly welcomed Gordon Brown’s pledge to withdraw 1,000 British troops from southern Iraq by the end of the year, claiming the move represents an attempt by him to break a US stranglehold on British foreign policy.

Interviewed on Iran’s officially approved Vision of the Islamic Republic television channel, an Iranian regional expert, identified as Mr Hanizadeh, said: “There is no doubt that Mr Gordon Brown is trying to reinstate the reputation of the British Labour party with this move. To this end, Mr Brown is trying to adopt a new policy and [is”> distancing himself from the policies of Tony Blair, who had a strong orientation towards America.”

Mr Hanizadeh told Iranian viewers that the decision to cut troop numbers, announced during a visit by Mr Brown to Baghdad on Tuesday, was partly influenced by electoral considerations. “Given that Mr Brown has suggested that in the next two months there will be early elections, it is natural that he would … present a new independent British policy, away from any pressure on behalf of the White House.”

Tehran’s plaudits come amid close Iranian scrutiny of political developments in Britain since Mr Blair left office, and concern about the implications for Basra and southern Iraq of a British pullout.

Claims this week by Liam Fox, the shadow defence secretary, that the prime minister was using British troops as a “political football” were uncritically reproduced by the official Islamic Republic News Agency (Irna).

A recent report in the Daily Telegraph suggesting that George Bush, the US president, no longer regarded Britain as his closest or most reliable ally was also quoted at length by Irna. Of particular interest to the Iranian audience were claims, attributed to White House officials, that Mr Brown would not back military action against Iran.

Iran has been steadily increasing its influence with the Shia population of southern Iraq, where British troops are based, since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Its softer tone follows a period of steadily deteriorating bilateral relations, exacerbated by the collapse of the EU troika’s attempts to cut a deal over Iran’s uranium enrichment programme. The relationship took a turn for the worse in March when Iran briefly held captive 15 British sailors before releasing them with a studied show of magnanimity.

But Iran’s apparent hopes of a shift in UK policy may arise from wishful thinking. Asked about policy change, a Foreign Office official said: “I think you’re going to have to wait about 18 months. We’re waiting for [Iranian president, Mahmoud”> Ahmadinejad to lose the presidential election [due by June 2009″> … And we’re waiting for Bush to finish his term [in January 2009″>. Then we might be able to do something.”

Iran is similarly interested in the US presidential race, given speculation about a US or US-Israeli strike on its nuclear facilities. On Monday the Iranian newspaper Kayhan, a conservative, pro-government publication, urged US Democrats in Congress to do more to compel Mr Bush to order a withdrawal from Iraq. “The majority of [Americans”> would like to see the Iraq war end … But Bush continues to implement his own wishes and completely ignores Congress,” Kayhan said.

Iran officially dismisses the likelihood of a “mad” attack on its territory. “The US is not in a position to impose another war in our region against their taxpayers,” the foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, told the UN this week.

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