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Iran won't team with U.S. against Islamic State
Iran has rejected a U.S. appeal to join a global fight against Islamic State militants, the country's top religious and political figure said Monday, as Western and Arab diplomats gathered to frame strategies against the terror network that controls large areas of Iraq and Syria.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Iran refused the American request because of Washington's "evil intentions," the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
Reuters quoted Khamenei as telling Iran's state television that the American request was "hollow and self-serving," echoing Iran's claims that Western nations are seeking to expand their influence in the region as part of the Islamic State battles.
The United States did not deny the outreach and said discussions with Iran will continue -- underscoring Iran's influence in the region but also showing the political complexities of bringing Iran into the emerging international alliance against the Islamic State.
Iran was excluded from an international conference in Paris on Monday devoted to coordinating strategy against the militants. Secretary of State John F. Kerry has said Iran's presence would be inappropriate because of its military involvement in the Syrian civil war.
But Iran also sees the Islamic State as a prime threat to its deep interests in Iraq and Syria. Iran already has sent its allied Shiite militias in Iraq to fight with Western-backed Kurds against the Islamic State.
Khamenei said the American offer to participate in countering the militants came before the public U.S. opposition to Iran's attendance at the Paris conference, but he did not give further details.
Although details of the U.S.-Iranian discussion remain vague, it appears to have been an offer of behind-the-scenes cooperation rather than public partnership.
Iran is deeply opposed to the Islamic State. Tehran's Shiite theocracy sees the militants as a challenge to Iraq's majority Shiites -- whose political parties have close ties to Iran -- and a destabilizing force against Iran's other main regional ally, President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Iraq have already joined battles to drive back Islamic State fighters in northern Iraq.
But Iran's partnership in the coalition would risk repercussions. Sunni Arab states such as Saudi Arabia -- longtime Iranian rivals -- are likely to oppose any high-profile role by Iran in the Islamic State showdowns.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States raised the issue of the militant threat during separate U.S.-Iranian negotiations aimed at curbing Iran's disputed nuclear program, she said.
"It is not a secret that we have had discussions with Iran about the counter-ISIL efforts in Iraq," Psaki said, using one of the acronyms for the Islamic State. "I am not going to outline every diplomatic discussion."
Psaki, however, ruled out any U.S. military coordination with Iran. The United States and Iran have been diplomatically estranged for more than 30 years and have long considered one another principal adversaries in the Middle East.
By going public with the American offer Monday, Iran appeared to close off the possibility of cooperation against the militants for now.
"We will be continuing those talks on the nuclear issue later this week in New York," Psaki said. "There may be another opportunity on the margins in the future to discuss Iraq."
In Paris, Arab, European and other diplomats gathered Monday for discussions about supporting the new Iraqi government and turning back the militants.
Host France had wanted to invite Iran, the Shiite regional power broker. But the move was resisted by the United States as it tries to stitch together a diverse alliance against the Islamic State militants and overcome reluctance by many to intervene in any way in the Syrian civil war, now in its fourth year. Nearly 200,000 have died, according to the United Nations.
The Paris meeting came at the end of Kerry's week-long tour of Arab allies and Turkey devoted to recruiting diplomatic and military support for the U.S.-led campaign. The division of labor for a wider military assault on the Islamic State took shape during his trip, with the United States military and Iraqi forces playing the central roles.
On Sunday, U.S. officials said Arab states have volunteered to fly airstrikes alongside U.S. planes. But they stressed that such an expansion was still under discussion and subject to review by Iraq, which had frosty relations with Persian Gulf states under former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, widely viewed as a Shiite partisan who alienated Iraqi Sunnis.
Officials from the region said the volunteers included Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and others, whose leaders had been waiting to hear from the administration that it has a viable plan and is prepared to follow through with it.
Both the United Arab Emirates and Qatar flew airstrikes during the 2011 air campaign in Libya. Qatar's role is not entirely clear now, although it is already participating in training Syrian rebels, as is Jordan.
Saudi Arabia is also expected to participate in expanded training of the rebels fighting both the Islamic State and Syria's president. The Saudis have been pressing the United States to accede to long-standing rebel requests for surface-to-air antiaircraft weapons, which could be a game-changer for the chronically underequipped rebel forces, but thus far the Obama administration has refused.
Opening the Paris conference, French President Francois Hollande said the threat from global militancy requires a coordinated and global response. France is among European nations deeply alarmed by the flow of radicalized young men who have traveled from Europe to fight alongside the rebels, and who could seek to return.
"Islamic State's doctrine is either you support us or kill us," Iraqi President Fouad Massoum told delegates from 30 countries. "It has committed massacres and genocidal crimes and ethnic purification."
[Source: By Anne Gearan, The Washington Post, 15Sep14]
War in Iraq
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