Tensions between the US and Iran continue to mount. The US has long taken a dim view of the Islamic nation's nuclear program and charged that Iran is actively contributing to chaos in Iraq. Now, US officials are considering designating Iran's Revolutionary Guard, the largest branch of that country's military, a terrorist organization. In the background is the ongoing debate within the Bush administration about whether to take a conciliatory approach with Iran or seek to intensify the country's international isolation.
European diplomats say that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has cautioned them that if UN Security Council approval to increase economic sanctions on Iran is delayed, the US will have little other option but to act unilaterally, reports The New York Times.
A move toward putting the Revolutionary Guard on the foreign terrorist list would serve at least two purposes for Ms. Rice: to pacify, for a while, administration hawks who are pushing for possible military action, and to further press America's allies to ratchet up sanctions against Iran in the Security Council.
Senior administration officials said current plans called for the declaration to be made this month, but cautioned that it could be put off, and that the effort could still be set aside if the Security Council moved more quickly to impose broad sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.
Though Iran continues to insist that its disputed nuclear program is for peaceful energy purposes only, there are signs of growing skepticism about the program from Russia. The nation has been helping Iran to build a nuclear reactor and has been less tough in its stance on the Islamic nation than either the US or the European Union, reports the Associated Press.
Russia warned in March that it would not provide fuel rods for the reactor it is building in the southern city of Bushehr as long as Iran ignored U.N. Security Council demands that it freeze uranium enrichment, diplomats said.
Now, Moscow has modified that demand, saying no fuel will be provided unless Iran meets another key international request — that it fully explain past activities that heightened suspicions it might be looking to develop a nuclear arms program, two diplomats familiar with Iran's nuclear file told The Associated Press.
Iran has not been sitting idly by, strengthening its ties to two neighbors – Iraq and Afghanistan – that also host large US military presences, as the Los Angeles Times reports.
Now, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran has forged cordial relationships with Iraq's new Shi'ite-dominated government and with (Afghan President Hamid) Karzai. Last week, the Afghan president rebuffed President Bush's attempts to characterize Iran as a destabilizing force in the region, contending on CNN that Iran had been "a helper" on fighting terrorism and narcotics.
Just as worrisome for Sunni Arab governments in the Middle East, Ahmadinejad's tough talk against the United States and Israel has won Iran unexpected and growing popularity in the Sunni Muslim world.
US generals in Iraq have insisted that Iran is playing a major role in arming and encouraging the activities of Shiite militias inside the country – a charge that Tehran denies. In an opinion piece for Inter Press Service, the antiwar columnist Gareth Porter argues that intensifying Shiite militia activity is not directly linked to Iran.
When a top US commander in Iraq reported last week that attacks by Shi'ite militias with links to Iran had risen to 73% of all July attacks that had killed or wounded US forces in Baghdad, he claimed it was because of an effort by Iran to oust the United States from Iraq, referring to "intelligence reports" of a "surge" in Iranian assistance.
But the obvious reason for the rise in Shi'ite-related US casualties - ignored in US media coverage of Lieutenant-General Raymond Odierno's charge - is that the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr was defending itself against a rising tempo of attacks by US forces at the same time attacks by al-Qaeda forces had fallen.
Odierno's charges are the latest addition to an ongoing Bush administration narrative about developments in Iraq that treats all Shi'ite activity outside the Iraqi government as reflecting Iranian policy.
There have also been recent charges, made ahead of the Iranian president's meeting with Karzai that Iran is arming the Taliban in Afghanistan – a virulently anti-Shiite group that was sharply at odds with Tehran at the time of the US invasion of that country, reports The Scotsman.
"It is clear to everyone that Iran is supporting the enemy of Afghanistan, the Taleban," Colonel Rahmatullah Safi, head of border police for western Afghanistan, which borders Iran, said earlier this month.
"I doubt seriously if there is any truth in it," (Ahmedinajad) told a press conference. "With all our force, we support the political process in Afghanistan."
In the case of Iran, the US is not alone in alleging it's fueling Iraq's violence. In an open letter this week in which he appealed for international Arab support, senior Sunni Iraqi politician Adnan al-Dulaimi, who has ties of his own to Sunni militants inside the country, alleged that Iran is seeking to foment "genocide" there, reports Reuters.
"Your brothers in Baghdad are suffering a genocide carried out by militias and the death squads with Iranian planning, instructions, and weapons," [Mr. al-Dulaimi] wrote.
"If you think what is happening to us will end at Baghdad then you are wrong. By God, this war that started in Baghdad will not stop here. It will extend to every Arab spot where the Arabic tongue is spoken. It is a war of history."
Iraq's national unity government has all but fallen apart in recent weeks, with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki scheduling an emergency reconciliation meeting. On Wednesday, Iraq witnessed one of its worst terrorist attacks in months, which also prompted allegations of genocide, though in a different direction from Iran, Agence France-Presse reports.
More than 200 people were slaughtered when four suicide truck bombs ripped through an ancient religious sect in northern Iraq, as fears grew on Wednesday that more dead were trapped under the rubble.
In one of the bloodiest single incidents of the four-year war in Iraq, bombers detonated four explosive-laden trucks late Tuesday in two villages in the province of Nineveh inhabited by members of the Yazidi minority.
President Jalal Talabani, himself a Kurd, said the victims were "Kurdish Yazidis" who fell to a "genocide war launched by the terrorists and takfiris (extremists) against the Iraqi people."
"Takfiris" are generally used in an Iraqi context to refer to Sunni Arab fighters who share the same ideology as Al Qaeda.
A political cartoon by Brian Fairrington indicates that if the US further sanctions Iran, it will drive gas prices off the charts.