Iran is pri­mary threat to progress in Iraq Joint Chiefs chair­man says

The Washington Times Weekly - - International Perspective - By Sara A. Carter

Iran’s in­flu­ence in Iraq is pos­ing a di­rect threat to peace in the re­gion, as law­mak­ers on Capi­tol Hill de­bate whether talks with Tehran will bear fruit or fur­ther place U.S. war strat­egy in jeop­ardy.

Adm. Michael Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Se­nate Ap­pro­pri­a­tions de­fense sub­com­mit­tee May 20 that the in­flu­ence of the Quds Force, a paramil­i­tary arm of the Ira­nian Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps, is risk­ing progress made in Iraq. He said Iraq “re­mains our No. 1 strate­gic pri­or­ity.”

“We can­not af­ford — the world can­not af­ford — to have an Iraq un­able to gov­ern, de­fend or sus­tain it­self in ef­fect and in prac­tice as a failed state,” Adm. Mullen told the panel. “We get it wrong there, we place an un­ac­cept­able risk on our na­tional in­ter­ests through­out the Mid­dle East. We get it wrong there, and Iran’s grow­ing and neg­a­tive in­flu­ence, Hezbol­lah’s grow­ing ex­trem­ism or al Qaeda’s abil­ity to re­con­sti­tute it­self only in­ten­sify and im­peril the re­gion that much more.”

The chair­man re­it­er­ated that an­other at­tack on the U.S. likely would come from al Qaeda forces re­group­ing in Pak­istan’s Feder- ally Ad­min­is­tered Tribal Ar­eas, near the Afghanistan border.

“It’s a very dif­fi­cult prob­lem be­cause this is sov­er­eign ter­ri­tor y” be­long­ing to Pak­istan, Adm. Mullen told the panel.

He said vi­o­lence in Afghanistan is es­ca­lat­ing, as is the grow­ing opium trade, and he re­it­er­ated that ex­tra forces in the re­gion are nec­es­sary to sta­bi­lize the coun­try.

Adm. Mullen said a “stable Iraq and Afghanistan that are long-term part­ners and share our com­mit­ment to peace will be crit­i­cal to achiev­ing re­gional sta­bil­ity and se­cu­rity.”

“This will re­quire years, not months,” and “will re­quire the sup­port of the Amer­i­can peo­ple, our re­gional al­lies and con­certed ac­tion by the Iraqi and Afghan peo­ple and their lead­ers,” he said.

He added, how­ever, that the U.S. mil­i­tary is im­prov­ing “coun­terin­sur­gency skills” and adapt­ing to the “chang­ing con­di­tions” in the re­gion from lessons learned in the past.

De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates also tes­ti­fied at the hear­ing. Sen. Arlen Specter, Penn­syl­va­nia Repub­li­can, asked him whether it was wise to “in­sist on a con­ces­sion like stop­ping en­rich­ing ura­nium” as lever­age against Iran “be­fore we even sit down and talk to them on a broader range of is­sues.”

Mr. Gates told Mr. Specter that the U.S. needs lever­age be­fore ne­go­ti­at­ing with Tehran. He said “fi­nan­cial sanc­tions against North Korea cre­ated sig­nif­i­cant lever­age that helped prompt them to come to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.”

“The key here is de­vel­op­ing lever­age, ei­ther through eco­nomic or diplo­matic or mil­i­tary pres­sures on the Ira­nian gov­ern­ment so they be­lieve they must have talks with the United States be­cause there is some­thing they want from us, and that is the re­lief of the pres­sure,” he told the panel.

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