U.S. envoy: Iran gained from U.S. invasions

February 3, 2008

NEW YORK (AP) -- Iran is stronger today because of the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the American ambassador to the United Nations said Friday.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq removed a key rival of Shiite Iran with the ouster of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated government. Iran has friendly ties with the Shiites now in power in Iraq.
“It’s helped Iran’s relative position in the region, because Iraq was a rival of Iran ... and the balance there has disintegrated or weakened,” Zalmay Khalilzad said while answering questions from students at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.
To Khalilzad, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no question that an unintended consequence of U.S. decisions in Afghanistan and Iraq has been to strengthen Iran’s position in the Mideast.
Iran almost went to war with the Taliban in the late 1990s, because of its extremist theology and its killing of Afghan Shiite Muslims. With the United States’ overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, Iran’s relations with Afghanistan improved, their trade grew and Iran helped build roads and power lines in Afghanistan.
“I, as you know, have met with the Iranians many times over the years in my various positions, including in Afghanistan,” he told the students after delivering a speech on the importance of solving the problems of Middle Eastern politics.
“And I used to tease the (Iranian) ambassador that we have done so much for you in Iraq and Afghanistan, the least you can do is to be helpful to this effort. Otherwise, one day you will get a big bill.”
He and the crowd laughed.
Whether or not U.S. actions have increased Iran’s power, the country also has been playing a greater role in Iraq’s economy, supplying Iraqis with electricity, household goods, and food. Iraqi leaders from the Shiite bloc that are now in power have said their ties with Iran’s governing Shiite Persians will grow.
Khalilzad claimed a third round of UN Security Council sanctions against Iran is justified.
Khalilzad said that Iran has the “right to have access for nuclear energy,” and the United States is willing to work with Iran and other nations to assure they have “reliable access to fuel for nuclear reactors.”
But he said there must be controls.
After speaking to the students, Khalilzad also defended himself against criticism that he had violated Bush administration rules by participating in talks with Iran’s Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. They appeared onstage together on Jan. 26, and the U.S. State Department later said Khalilzad did not seek permission to participate.
“I think there was a misunderstanding, because some people thought that we had discussions or negotiations with them. There wasn’t anything like that,” he told The Associated Press. “There was no discussion, no negotiation, no greeting of them. Just answering questions.” -