The Guardian: Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, yesterday shrugged off the threat of a US attack and said accusations that Tehran was arming insurgents in Iraq represented an attempt to find a scapegoat for American “defeats and failures”. The Guardian
· Iranian leader says Bush trying to find scapegoats
· Blair backs claims that arms are going to Iraq
Julian Borger, Robert Tait in Tehran and Ewen MacAskill in Washington
Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, yesterday shrugged off the threat of a US attack and said accusations that Tehran was arming insurgents in Iraq represented an attempt to find a scapegoat for American “defeats and failures”.
The British government, however, backed Washington’s claims of covert Iranian arms supplies to insurgents, including sophisticated armour-piercing roadside bombs. A Downing Street spokesman said Tony Blair had been “at the cutting edge of identifying this problem”, first raising the alarm over the alleged influx of Iranian weaponry in October 2005.
The row over Iraq has added to growing tension over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. A UN deadline for Iran to stop uranium enrichment is due to pass next Wednesday, amid simmering speculation that the US is contemplating taking military action against Tehran’s nuclear programme.
Mr Ahmadinejad brushed aside the threat. In an interview with America’s ABC News, he said: “Why should we be afraid? First, the possibility is very low, and we think that there are wise people in the US that would stop such illegal actions. But our position is clear – our nation has made it clear that anyone who wants to attack our country will be severely punished.”
The Iranian president said his government and Iran’s revolutionary guards were “opposed to any kind of conflict in Iraq”, and he dismissed evidence presented by American military officials at the weekend pointing towards a covert revolutionary guard role behind the insurgency and the sectarian violence in Iraq.
“You are showing us some piece of papers and you call them documents,” he said. “There should be a court to prove the case. We think that the US is following another policy, trying to hide its defeats and failures, and that’s why it is pointing its fingers at others.”
Tony Snow, the White House press spokesman, yesterday stood by the allegations by US military intelligence, but denied that they were intended to pave the way for an attack. He said they simply presented “evidence to the effect that there’s been the shipment of weaponry, lethal weaponry, into Iraq, some of it of Iranian provenance. And this is something that we think if the president of Iran wants to put a stop to it, we wish him luck and hope he’ll do it real soon.”
However, Democratic Congressmen expressed scepticism about the timing of the allegations, noting parallels to the build up to the Iraq invasion. The House of Representatives is due to begin today debating a resolution critical of the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq conflict, as the Democratic majority flexes its new political muscles.
In Europe, Iran’s chief negotiator, Ari Larijani, kept up a flurry of diplomacy ahead of next week’s UN deadline, holding talks with the Swiss government after weekend discussions with European Union officials. He said his country did not want atomic weapons, because it would trigger a Middle East nuclear arms race and would contribute nothing to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He told the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung that Iran was willing to give “all imaginable guarantees” that it was not developing weapons, but he insisted it would not abandon uranium enrichment as a precondition to negotiations.
Javier Solana, the EU’s top foreign policy official, met Mr Larijani in Munich, but conceded yesterday that the prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough were “not immense”. European foreign ministers meanwhile agreed on the implementation of limited sanctions ordered by the UN security council in December.
Iran insists it has the right to enrich uranium for civil power generation, but the US and its allies suspect it of secretly planning to develop nuclear weapons. The UN watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has criticised Tehran for failing to disclose all the elements of its programme, and last Friday the IAEA halved its assistance programme to Iran.
The IAEA director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, is due to report to the security council on Iranian compliance next week. Yesterday he welcomed Tehran’s stated willingness to negotiate, but added that nothing short of “full transparency” would lead to a resumption of substantive talks.