View Full Version : Bush Warns Iraq Over Ties With Iran

08-10-2007, 07:57 AM
Bush warns Iraq over ties with Iran


by Olivier Knox
Thu Aug 9, 1:20 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President George W. Bush sternly warned Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki Thursday against cozying up to Iran, amid what Washington sees as unsettling signs of warming Baghdad-Tehran relations.

Bush, holding a pre-vacation press conference, said he was not surprised at pictures showing cordial meetings between Maliki and top Iranian leaders in Tehran but that he hoped the prime minister was delivering a tough message.

But "if the signal is that Iran is constructive, I will have to have a heart to heart with my friend, the prime minister, because I don't believe they are constructive," said the US president.

Earlier Iran, which the United States blames for fomenting much of the bloodshed in Iraq, gave visiting Maliki its full support for restoring security but told him a pullout of US forces was the only way to end the violence.

According to the state-run IRNA news agency, Maliki thanked Iran for its "positive and constructive" work in "providing security and fighting terrorism in Iraq."

"My message to him is, when we catch you playing a non-constructive role, there will be a price to pay," Bush said in remarks which could have been taken as a criticism of Maliki.

US National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe later said the "price to pay" remark by Bush was directed at Iran.

"The president has said that many times. We've arrested and detained Iranian agents inside Iraq ... that message was for Iran."

The US president warned that "there will be consequences" for any Iranians shipping weapons, including sophisticated roadside bombs, inside Iraq, and branded Tehran "a destabilizing influence" in the Middle East.

Bush cited Iran's support for Lebanon's Shiite militant group Hezbollah; Tehran's suspect nuclear program; and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's anti-Israel warnings, which he said Washington "cannot live with."

"My message to the Iranian people is, 'You can do better than this current government. You don't have to be isolated. You don't have to be in a position where you can't realize your full economic potential,'" Bush said.

Asked whether he was confident that, in past talks, Maliki shared his view about Iran, the US president replied: "Does he understand with some extremist groups there's connections with Iran? And he does. And I'm confident."

Maliki's talks appeared to confirm the increasingly warm relations that have emerged between majority Shiite Iraq and overwhelmingly Shiite Iran following the fall of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime.

The United States however accuses Iran of backing Shiite militias and supplying weapons capable of penetrating the armor of US military vehicles. The charges are vehemently denied by Iran.

In a highly symbolic move, Maliki met the families of seven Iranian officials arrested in Iraq by US forces on accusations of being members of an elite Revolutionary Guards force on a mission to stir trouble.

Iran insists the men were diplomats and is livid that the United States has shown no sign of releasing them.

The apparent break between Bush and Maliki came days after the US president disagreed sharply with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who called Iran "a helper" in combating extremist forces in his country.

Bush, who was bound for his family's oceanside compound in the northeastern state of Maine, also said he expected full cooperation from Pakistan against extremists and that he was "hopeful" that beleaguered President Pervez Musharraf would hold "a free and fair election."

Bush was also careful to express respect for Pakistan's sovereignty, following Islamabad's publicly expressed anger over calls for unilateral US action to target Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda.

Asked about unrest inside Pakistan, Bush said: "My focus in terms of the domestic scene there is that he have a free and fair election. And that's what we have been talking to him about -- I'm hopeful they will."

Bush's comments came after Musharraf decided against the advice of aides worried about instability to impose a state of emergency, a move that could have delayed looming elections.

Those polls are due by early 2008, and will be the first since late 2002. Army chief Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999.