Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Iran Has 'Blood on its Hands' MacKay Says

National Post:

August 19, 2006

Mike Blanchfield

With a potential international showdown looming next week in Iran's nuclear standoff with the West, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay says Tehran has "blood on its hands" for backing Hezbollah in its recent war against Israel.

In an interview with CanWest News Service, Mr. MacKay highlighted Iran's support of Hezbollah and its nuclear ambitions, which will be back in the international spotlight on Tuesday -- the symbolic date in the Muslim calendar chosen by the Islamic regime to reply to UN demands to end its suspected nuclear weapons program.

"They [Iran] are certainly behind much of the difficulty that's going on in the region by funding Hezbollah, by supporting them in terms of their activities against Israel. They have a great deal of responsibility and blood on their hands from their activities," he said.

Mr. MacKay said he saw a "glimmer of hope" this week Tehran might consider halting its uranium enrichment program, although he's not holding his breath.

Iran says it needs nuclear energy to provide electricity, but the West suspects it of trying to create a nuclear bomb.

The United States says it wants the United Nations to move swiftly to impose sanctions if Iran fails to halt uranium enrichment by Aug. 31, the deadline set by the UN Security Council for Tehran to respond to an incentive package offered by the West.

"I think this is one of the more ominous and looming concerns that everyone should be focused on," Mr. MacKay said.

"Of course, we've been very much caught up with what's been happening in the Middle East, but Iran, it's fair to say, has been described an agent provocateur." Mr. MacKay also pointed to Syria as "a conduit for Iran to perpetrate much of this mischief."

Israel and the United States are concerned Iran and Syria may try to resupply Hezbollah with weapons after the ceasefire in its 34-day war with Israel. Syria is thought to have acted as one of the main supply routes for weapons used by Hezbollah during the war.

Manouchehr Mottaki, the Iranian Foreign Minister, suggested his country might be ready to agree on suspension of uranium enrichment.

"We are ready to negotiate over all issues stated in the proposed package," he said this week.

"One of the points in the package is the issue of suspension.

We are ready to negotiate over all issues, including suspension." Mr. Mottaki's conciliatory tone contrasts with the continued refusal of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to stop enrichment and his fiery support of Hezbollah.

"I have reservations about Iran's intentions for obvious reasons. At this point I think the Foreign Minister's statement is -- I would describe it as a glimmer of hope -- and let's hope that they follow through on their word," Mr. MacKay said.

Iran ready for Israel action after Lebanon war - army

Yahoo Asia News:

Sunday August 20, 2:19 AM

TEHRAN (Reuters) - A senior Iranian army commander said on Saturday the armed forces were prepared for any action by Israel after what Iran has called the Jewish state's defeat at the hands of Lebanon's Hizbollah guerrillas.

Ataollah Salehi, commander-in-chief of Iran's army, made his comment on the first day of army wargames, which started in the south of the country but will later extend to other areas. He did not say how long the manoeuvres would last.

"The enemy has gone mad facing Hizbollah's strength and we should keep ourselves prepared given the history we have from our mad enemy," Salehi was quoted as saying by Iran's official IRNA news agency.

Iranian officials have praised the truce in Lebanon as a victory for Iran's ally Hizbollah and a defeat for Israel.

Iran is embroiled in a nuclear standoff with the West.

It is due to reply by Aug. 22 to a demand by major powers that it relinquish uranium enrichment in return for trade and technical concessions. It denies accusations by western countries that it is seeking nuclear bombs. Israel launched a strike on Iraqi nuclear facilities in 1981 and some analysts have speculated Israel could consider a strike on Iran. But they say this would be a tougher task, partly because Iran's facilities are widely dispersed.

"We have designed plans that will definitely surprise our enemies," Salehi said in comments on state television, adding that the wargames would be held across the country.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards, the ideologically driven wing of the armed forces which has a separate command structure to the regular military, held wargames in the Gulf in April in which they tested new missiles, torpedoes and other equipment.

Analysts interpreted those wargames as a thinly veiled threat that Iran could disrupt vital oil shipping lanes if pushed by an escalation in the nuclear dispute.

Officials said new home-made equipment would be tested during the army's manoeuvres, newspapers earlier reported, but no such tests were announced on Saturday.

Iran launches military exercises

Yahoo News:

Sat Aug 19, 4:45 AM ET

Iran on Saturday launched a series of large-scale military exercises aimed at introducing the country's new defensive doctrine, state-run television reported.

The television report said the military exercise would occur in 14 of the country's 30 provinces and could last as long as five weeks.

The first stage of the maneuvers began with air strikes in the southeastern province of Sistan va Baluchistan, the report said.

The military exercises come as Iran faces heightened international scrutiny because of its contentious nuclear program and for supporting the guerrilla group Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Iran has denied Israeli accusations it is arming and training Hezbollah fighters but also has declared Hezbollah victorious in its battle against the Jewish state.

The Islamic Republic, which views the United States as an arch foe, also is concerned about the U.S. military presence in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan and Israel's threats to destroy its nuclear facilities.

The military exercise, involving 12 infantry regiments, is called "The Blow of Zolfaghar," in reference to a sword that belonged to Imam Ali, one of the most revered figures of Islam for Shiite Muslims. A majority of Iran's 70 million people are Shiite.

Iran has routinely held war games over the past two decades to improve its combat readiness and test locally made equipment such as missiles, tanks and armored personnel carriers.