Rice warns Iran against aggression after US arrests Iranian consular staff
Jan 11 9:27 AM US/Eastern
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Iran that the United States won't "stand idly by" if Tehran tries to disrupt Washington's renewed effort to stabilize Iraq.
Speaking hours after US troops raided Iran's consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil and arrested five employees, Rice said Washington was determined to crack down on Iran's "regional aggression".
Rice declined to comment specifically on the operation in Arbil, which came shortly after President George W. Bush announced a new US strategy to end the violence in Iraq that included stepped up moves to counter Iranian and Syrian involvement in the country.
She also declined in three television interviews Thursday morning to rule out US military action against Iran, which she and Bush accused of supporting anti-US insurgents and "terrorists" in Iraq and of trying to develop nuclear weapons.
"I don't want to speculate on what operations the United States may be engaged in, but you will see that the United States is not going to simply stand idly by and let these activities continue," she said.
In his speech, Bush also fueled concerns he could be preparing the ground for eventual strikes against Iran by announcing that he had ordered the deployment of an additional aircraft carrier strike group to the region and would provide Patriot anti-missile systems to nearby allies.
"We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq," he said.
Rice said the administration would act to protect its allies "that all fear Iran's moves in the region, fear the regional aggression of Iran".
She added that Iranian meddling in Iraq "is not going to be tolerated".
Rice is due to head to the Middle East on Friday to build support for Bush's new plan for Iraq, which includes adding some 21,000 troops to the current US force of 132,000 soldiers in the country and setting "benchmarks" for action by the Iraqi government to achieve political reconciliation.
She will visit Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, where she will meet her with her counterparts from the six Gulf monarchies.
Rice will also meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders about their long-stalled peace efforts.
Rice acknowledged Thursday that after nearly four years of war and numerous failed attempts to stabilize Iraq, many doubted whether Bush's latest strategy would work.
"We understand in the debate there's a lot of skepticism about where the war is going, skepticism about whether or not the Iraqi government will really step up this time," she said.
"But I've talked to these Iraqi leaders and they know the consequences personally and for their country and they are ready to take on this challenge," she said.
Bush's stark warnings to Iran and the announcement of new military deployments to the region set off alarm bells among opponents who have long suspected the administration of plotting for regime change in the Islamic Republic.
"Isn't one war enough for this president?" asked Democratic congressman Dennis Kucinich, an Iraq war opponent and contender for the 2008 Democratic Party presidential nomination.
Bush "appears to be setting the stage for a wider war in the region," Kucinich said.
Iran condemned the arrest of consular staff in Arbil, accusing Washington of violating international law and stirring up tension among Iraq's neighbours.
US military official in Iraq confirmed only that six
Last month US forces detained two Iranian nationals on suspicion of weapons smuggling in a raid in Baghdad, but the pair were later handed over to Iranian officials in Baghdad.
Tension between Iran and the United States has soared after the UN Security Council voted last month to impose sanctions on Iran's nuclear programme and Tehran vowed to start immediately expanding its capacity to enrich uranium.
Washington accuses Iran of seeking to develop a nuclear weapon, a charge vehemently denied by the oil-rich Islamic republic, which says it only wants to provide atomic energy to a growing population.