Next on 'axis of evil' hit list?
WASHINGTON — Again, the familiar sound of "regime change" is heardin Washington, with Iran the latest target after Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Bush administration has accused Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons, sending agents into Iraq to stir up the Shiites against America, and involvement in the May 12 suicide attacks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in which 34 persons were killed, eight of them Americans.
This wasn't the first time Iran was suspected of complicity in a bombing in Saudi Arabia. In a National Public Radio interview in August 1996, Secretary of Defense William Perry expressed belief that Iranian agents had a hand in the bombing of the Khobar Towers barracks, which killed 19 Americans and injured hundreds.
After 1996, however, relations with Iran seemed to improve. The Tehran government cooperated in the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Iran denounced the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But, since the State of the Union address last year in which President Bush designated Iran as part of the "axis of evil," relations have plunged.
Communications intercepts reportedly indicate that a small cell of Al Qaeda leaders in Iran, including Al Qaeda security chief Saif al-Adel, directed the Riyadh attacks. Iran, which isn't known to have had friendly relations with Al Qaeda, disavowed any link with the "fundamentalist and violent" network.
Again, as with Iraq, administration leaks suggested an internecine battle between ideologues and diplomats.
The Washington Post heard that the administration was ready to embrace an aggressive policy of destabilizing the Iranian government. Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a familiar role, denied any change in Iran policy.
"We have contacts with them, they will continue," he said Tuesday.
The Jewish weekly, Forward, reports that a budding coalition of conservative hawks, Jewish organizations, and Iranian monarchists are pressing the White House to step up US efforts to bring about regime change in Iran. But, "for now," the Forward says, "the President's position is to encourage the Iranian people to act against the mullah regime themselves." For now!
Meanwhile, the air is full of official chatter about the iniquity of the Iranian regime.
• Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.