Monday, August 30, 2004

AIPAC/Franklin Scandal: Franklin Bio

War and Piece: "Franklin, a religious Catholic in his late 50s, lives in Kearneysville, West Virginia, a 90-minute drive from the Pentagon. But living in the distant suburb assured a high quality of life for Franklin, his wife Patricia and their five children . . . Franklin has a doctorate in East Asian studies from St. John's University, a Catholic university in New York City, and speaks Farsi, Arabic, French, Spanish, Russian and Chinese (in addition to English). On top of his work at the Pentagon, Franklin teaches history at Shepherd University in West Virginia."

B E L L A C I A O - Iran-Contra II?: fresh scrutiny on a rogue Pentagon operation -

B E L L A C I A O - Iran-Contra II?: fresh scrutiny on a rogue Pentagon operation -: "Iran-Contra II?: fresh scrutiny on a rogue Pentagon operation
By Joshua Micah Marshall, Laura Rozen, and Paul Glastris

On Friday evening, CBS News reported that the FBI is investigating a suspected mole in the Department of Defense who allegedly passed to Israel, via a pro-Israeli lobbying organization, classified American intelligence about Iran. The focus of the investigation, according to U.S. government officials, is Larry Franklin, a veteran Defense Intelligence Agency Iran analyst now working in the office of the Pentagon’s number three civilian official, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith.

The investigation of Franklin is now shining a bright light on a shadowy struggle within the Bush administration over the direction of U.S. policy toward Iran. In particular, the FBI is looking with renewed interest at an unauthorized back-channel between Iranian dissidents and advisers in Feith’s office, which more-senior administration officials first tried in vain to shut down and then later attempted to cover up.

Franklin, along with another colleague from Feith’s office, a polyglot Middle East expert named Harold Rhode, were the two officials involved in the back-channel, which involved on-going meetings and contacts with Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar and other Iranian exiles, dissidents and government officials. Ghorbanifar is a storied figure who played a key role in embroiling the Reagan administration in the Iran-Contra affair. The meetings were both a conduit for intelligence about Iran and Iraq and part of a bitter administration power-struggle pitting officials at DoD who have been pushing for a hard-line policy of "regime change" in Iran, against other officials at the State Department and the CIA who have been counseling a more cautious approach.

Reports of two of these meetings first surfaced a year ago in Newsday, and have since been the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Whether or how the meetings are connected to the alleged espionage remains unknown. But the FBI is now closely scrutinizing them.

While the FBI is looking at the meetings as part of its criminal investigation, to congressional investigators the Ghorbanifar back-channel typifies the out-of-control bureaucratic turf wars which have characterized and often hobbled Bush administration policy-making. And an investigation by The Washington Monthly -- including a rare interview with Ghorbanifar -- adds weight to those concerns. The meetings turn out to have been far more extensive and much less under White House control than originally reported. One of the meetings, which Pentagon officials have long characterized as merely a "chance encounter" seems in fact to have been planned long in advance by Rhode and Ghorbanifar. Another has never been reported in the American press. The administration’s reluctance to disclose these details seems clear: the DoD-Ghorbanifar meetings suggest the possibility that a rogue faction at the Pentagon was trying to work outside normal US foreign policy channels to advance a "regime change" agenda not approved by the president’s foreign policy principals or even the president himself.

The Italian Job

The first meeting occurred in Rome in December, 2001. It included Franklin, Rhode, and another American, the neoconservative writer and operative Michael Ledeen, who organized the meeting. (According to UPI, Ledeen was then working for Feith as a consultant.) Also in attendance was Ghorbanifar and a number of other Iranians. One of the Iranians, according to two sources familiar with the meeting, was a former senior member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard who claimed to have information about dissident ranks within the Iranian security services. The Washington Monthly has also learned from U.S. government sources that Nicolo Pollari, the head of Italy’s military intelligence agency, SISMI, attended the meetings, as did the Italian Minister of Defense Antonio Martino, who is well-known in neoconservative circles in Washington.

Alarm bells about the December 2001 meeting began going off in U.S. government channels only days after it occurred. On December 12th 2001, at the U.S. Embassy in Rome, America’s newly-installed Ambassador, Mel Sembler, sat down for a private dinner with Ledeen, an old friend of his from Republican Party politics, and Martino, the Italian defense minister. The conversation quickly turned to the meeting. The problem was that this was the first that Ambassador Sembler had heard about it.

According to U.S. government sources, Sembler immediately set about trying to determine what he could about the meeting and how it had happened. Since U.S. government contact with foreign government intelligence agencies is supposed to be overseen by the CIA, Sembler first spoke to the CIA station chief in Rome to find out what if anything he knew about the meeting with the Iranians. But that only raised more questions because the station chief had been left in the dark as well. Soon both Sembler and the Rome station chief were sending anxious queries back to the State Department and CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, respectively, raising alarms on both sides of the Potomac.

The meeting was a source of concern for a series of overlapping reasons. Since the late 1980s Ghorbanifar has been the subject of two CIA "burn notices." The Agency believes Ghorbanifar is a serial "fabricator" and forbids its officers from having anything to do with him. Moreover, why were mid-level Pentagon officials organizing meetings with a foreign intelligence agency behind the back of the CIA -- a clear breach of US government protocol? There was also a matter of personal chagrin for Sembler: At State Department direction, he had just been cautioning the Italians to restrain their contacts with bad-acting states like Iran (with which Italy has extensive trade ties).

According to U.S. government sources, both the State Department and the CIA eventually brought the matter to the attention of the White House -- specifically, to Condoleezza Rice’s chief deputy on the National Security Council, Stephen J. Hadley. Later, Italian spy chief Pollari raised the matter privately with Tenet, who himself went to Hadley in early February 2002. Goaded by Tenet, Hadley sent word to the officials in Feith’s office and to Ledeen to cease all such activities. Hadley then contacted Sembler, assuring him it wouldn’t happen again and to report back if it did.

The orders, however, seem to have had little effect, for a second meeting was soon underway. According to a story published this summer in Corriere della Sera, a leading Italian daily, this second meeting took place in Rome in June, 2002. Ghorbanifar tells The Washington Monthly that he arranged that meeting after a flurry of faxes between himself and DoD official Harold Rhode. Though he did not attend it himself, Ghorbanifar says the meeting consisted of an Egyptian, an Iraqi, and a high-level U.S. government official, whose name he declined to reveal. The first two briefed the American official about the general situation in Iraq and the Middle East, and what would happen in Iraq, "and it’s happened word for word since," says Ghorbanifar. A spokesman for the NSC declined to comment on this and other meetings and referred The Washington Monthly to the Defense Department, which did not respond to repeated inquiries. Ledeen also refused to comment.

No one at the U.S. Embassy in Rome seems to have known about this second Rome meeting. But the back-channel’s continuing existence became apparent the following month -- July 2002 -- when Ledeen again contacted Sembler and told him that he’d be back in Rome in September to continue "his work" with the Iranians (This time Ledeen made no mention of any involvement by Pentagon officials; later he told Sembler it would be in August rather than September.) An exasperated Sembler again sent word back to Washington and Hadley again went into motion telling Ledeen, in no uncertain terms, to back off.

Once again, however, Hadley’s orders seem to have gone unheeded. Almost a year later, in June, 2003, there were still further meetings in Paris involving Rhode and Ghorbanifar. Ghorbanifar says the purpose of the meeting was for Rhode to get more information on the situation in Iraq and the Middle East. "In those meetings we met, we gave him the scenario, what would happen in the coming days in Iraq. And everything has happened word for word as we told him," Ghorbanifar repeats. "We met in several different places in Paris," he says, "Rhode met several other people -- he didn’t only meet me."

Not a "chance encounter"

By the summer of 2003, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence had begun to get wind of the Ghorbanifar-Ledeen-DoD back-channel and made inquiries at the CIA. A month later, Newsday broke the original story about the secret Ghorbanifar channel. Faced with the disclosure, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld acknowledged the December, 2001 meeting but dismissed it as routine and unimportant.

"The information has moved around the interagency process to all the departments and agencies," he told reporters in Crawford, TX after a meeting with Bush. "As I understand it, there wasn’t anything there that was of substance or of value that needed to be pursued further." Later that day, another senior Defense official acknowledged the second meeting, in Paris, June, 2003, but insisted that it was the result of a "chance encounter" between Ghorbanifar and a Pentagon official. The administration has kept to the "chance encounter" story to this day.

Ghorbanifar, however, laughs off that idea. "Run into each other? We had a prior arrangement," he told The Washington Monthly: "It involved a lot of discussion, and a lot of people."

Over the last year, the Senate Intelligence Committee has conducted limited inquiry into the meetings, including interviews with Feith and Ledeen. But under terms of a compromise agreed to by both parties, a full investigation into the matter was put off until after the November election. Republicans on the committee, many of whom sympathize with the "regime change" agenda at DoD, have been resistant to such investigations, calling them an election-year fishing expedition. Democrats, by contrast, see such investigations as vital to understanding the central role Feith’s office may have played in a range of a dubious intelligence enterprises, from pushing claims about a supposed Saddam-al Qaeda partnership and overblown estimates of alleged Iraqi stocks of WMD to what the committee’s ranking minority member Sen. Jay Rockerfeller (D-WV) calls "the Chalabi factor" (Rhode and others in Feith’s office have been major sponsors of the Iraqi exile leader, who is now under investigation for passing U.S. intelligence to Iran). With the FBI adding potential espionage charges to the mix the long-simmering questions about the activities of Feith’s operation now seem certain to come under renewed scrutiny.

Research assistance provided by Claudio Lavanga.

Image in web link is a photo of Ghorbanifar from the mid-1980s, around the time of Iran-Contra.

Joshua Micah Marshall is a Washington Monthly contributing writer and the editor of Talking Points Memo. Laura Rozen reports on national security issues from Washington DC and for her weblog War and Piece. She can be reached at Paul Glastris is editor in chief of The Washington Monthly.

AIPAC/Franklin Spy Scandal - Worse than Pollard

The Daily Star - Politics - New spy scandal comes as major blow to Israel, AIPAC: "New spy scandal comes as major blow to Israel, AIPAC
Serious implications can lie ahead for US-Jewish ties

By Hussein Ibish
Daily Star staff
Tuesday, August 31, 2004
WASHINGTON: Washington was rocked late last week by allegations that a Pentagon policy analyst on Iran, Laurence A. Franklin, had passed classified information to Israel through the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the leading pro-Israel lobby group in the US. He is also said to have had extensive meetings with Naor Gilon, head of the political department at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, and a specialist on Iran's nuclear weapons program.

While both AIPAC and the Israeli government have issued categorical denials of any espionage activities, most observers say that law enforcement officials would not leak the accusations if they did not have the evidence to prove their charges. Franklin is said to have provided the Israelis with a secret presidential directive on Iran related to its ongoing nuclear program.

The New York Times reported on Aug. 30 that, "news reports about the inquiry compromised important investigative steps, like the effort to follow the trail back to the Israelis."

The leak seems less designed to pressure Franklin, who is said to have been cooperating with federal agents for several weeks, than to stymie the investigation, which is said to be far broader than the allegations made public at this stage. If the allegations are true, they could have serious implications for both US-Israel relations and for the reputation of AIPAC, which is regarded as one of the most powerful and effective lobby groups in the US.

Journalist Steven Green, a long-time observer of Israeli espionage efforts in the United States, told the Daily Star that he had spoken extensively with individuals involved in the investigation, and that "I know from personal experience that its scope is much wider in terms of the targets than we have been told so far."

He said that more senior officials than Franklin "should be extremely nervous about this." Green speculated that the scandal might involve exchanges of information between "sophisticates in the intelligence communities of Israel and Iran at the expense of the United States. ... There is a possible quid-pro-quo involved in Iran receiving US intelligence codes through the neocon favorite Ahmed Chalabi and the Israelis getting our latest thinking on Iran's nuclear program. ...You can see how that would benefit both parties, but not the US."

USA Today reported Monday that law enforcement officials said "there may be some crossover" between the Franklin and Chalabi investigations.

The scandal has already drawn comparisons to the Jonathan Pollard affair, in which a Jewish American was caught spying for Israel in 1985. Israeli officials have said that after the Pollard incident, the country made a firm decision not to spy on the United States in order to preserve its relationship with Washington. Several newspapers have quoted unnamed Jewish American leaders as expressing grave concern about the impact this brewing scandal could have on the reputation of AIPAC and Israel, but the Israeli daily Haaretz described one as being "positively relieved" that Franklin is not Jewish.

"The insinuation that AIPAC, an American Jewish lobby, is engaged in espionage is in some ways worse than Pollard, who as a single individual could be described as off-balance," Yossi Alpher, a former Mossad official told the Washington Post.

These are not the first allegations of Israeli spying in the United States involving AIPAC, but none have led to indictments, which are expected in this case. In an article in the online journal Counterpunch in February, Green detailed a 1979 investigation of Stephen Bryen, then a staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"Bryen had been overheard in the Madison Hotel Coffee Shop, offering classified documents to an official of the Israeli Embassy in the presence of the director of AIPAC," Green wrote. In spite of strong evidence, the investigation was dropped but Bryen was asked to resign from his Senate committee post. Bryen has close ties to Richard Perle and other key neocons in and around the Bush administration.

Jason Vest, a journalist who has written extensively on US military and intelligence issues, told the Daily Star: "I would describe the reaction to this scandal in the intelligence community as one of anger and of contempt, but not of surprise. No one believes, at all, that Israel does not spy on the United States, and no has believed that since Pollard. ... Of course."

He added that "this could be an 'off-the-books' operation - like the Iran-Contra affair for example - a project without official status but that was run at a senior level. Every country's intelligence operations involve such unofficial activities, which this very well may be." The allegations are also likely to fuel questions about possible Israeli influence on US policy toward Iran and, more significantly perhaps, the build-up to the invasion of Iraq last year. Franklin, who was once stationed in Israel, works under Deputy Under Secretary William J. Luti and, ultimately, Undersecretary for Policy Douglas J. Feith.

Neoconservative hawks, Feith and Luti oversaw the work of the Office of Special Plans and the Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, two offices set up in the Pentagon which sought

to provide alternative analysis of intelligence on the former Iraqi regime's allegedly weapons of mass destruction programs and links to the Al-Qaeda terrorist network.

The OSP is said to have had extensive links to a similar ad hoc intelligence analysis unit set up in the office of Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon, both dedicated to countering assessments by official US and Israel intelligence agencies that cast doubt on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities and ties to Al-Qaeda.

The investigation of Franklin appears to have been sparked by unauthorized meetings he helped set up between US officials and Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian arms-dealer who played a central role in the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980s in which the US supplied Iran with missiles through Israel. Franklin and his superiors are understood to have helped arrange for the unauthorized meetings with Ghorbanifar, according to some analysts in order to sabotage an agreement between the White House and Iran to exchange Mujahideen-e Khalq prisoners captured by the US in Iraq for Al-Qaeda suspects in Iranian custody. Ghorbanifar allegedly provided highly suspect allegations that Iraq had transferred nuclear materiel to Iran.

Vest, whose work has covered some of Franklin's activities in the past, said "Franklin is not an unfamiliar figure to those of us who have been covering these issues, yet he is still somewhat enigmatic. He is known to be a career intelligence analyst who apparently specializes in Iran, but it is very difficult to find anyone in intelligence and policy circles who can describe the highlights of his career. The only thing for which he is well-known is that he was instrumental in setting up these bizarre meetings with Ghorbanifar."

James Bamford, a leading observer of the US intelligence community and author of the recent book "Pretext for War," said, "These allegations don't surprise me at all, since Franklin works for Feith, who is essentially a pro-Israel extremist. It certainly should encourage another look at the influence of Israel in the motivations for the Iraq war. Sharon was pushing the US very hard to go to war in August, 2002." Bamford added: "The neoconservatives surround themselves with people who are fanatically pro-Israel, and maybe they were too over confident, or felt that no one would notice or no one would care, or that they were running things so it wouldn't matter, but luckily the FBI is independent of the Pentagon." Bamford said it is significant that while the FBI had informed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, it had not told Feith about the investigation.

Some observers warned that, while it is important for all the facts to be uncovered in this case, there is the danger that if the scandal develops further it could lead to unfair accusations of "dual loyalty" against Jewish Americans. Vest said that, in the past, his work on pro-Israel neoconservatives had never raised issues of dual loyalty, although his neocon critics falsely alleged this.

Ziad Asali, President of the American Task Force on Palestine, also warned that, "Arab and Muslim Americans are often unfairly accused of disloyalty because of their ethnic and religious affiliations, and it has got to stop. The last thing we need is for Jewish Americans to now face a similar stigma. ... On the other hand," Asali said,adding that "these allegations against AIPAC serve as an object lesson for all ethnic American organizations about the need to be absolutely scrupulous in our conduct.""

Kerry camp sets out nuclear deal for Iran - World -

Kerry camp sets out nuclear deal for Iran - World - "Kerry camp sets out nuclear deal for Iran
By Glenn Kessler and Robin Wright
August 31, 2004

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A John Kerry administration would propose to Iran that it be allowed to keep its nuclear power plants in exchange for giving up the right to retain the nuclear fuel that could be used for bomb-making, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, John Edwards, has said.

Senator Edwards said that if Iran failed to take what he called a "great bargain", it would essentially confirm that it is building nuclear weapons under the cover of a supposedly peaceful nuclear power program.

He said that, if elected, John Kerry would ensure European allies were prepared to join the US in levying heavy sanctions if Iran rejected the proposal.

"If we are engaging with Iranians in an effort to reach this great bargain, and if in fact this is a bluff that they are trying to develop nuclear weapons capability, then we know that our European friends will stand with us," Senator Edwards said.

The notion of proposing such a bargain with Iran, combined with Senator Kerry's statement last December that he was prepared to explore "areas of mutual interest" with Tehran, suggests Senator Kerry would take a sharply different approach with Iran than George Bush has done.

Washington has not had diplomatic relations with Tehran since the 1979 revolution, and President Bush called Iran part of an "axis of evil" with North Korea and Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Earlier this month, Mr Bush said Iran "must abandon her nuclear ambitions".

Senator Edwards will deliver a speech in North Carolina today that aides said would seek to sharpen the differences with the Bush Administration on a range of foreign policy issues. Seizing on Mr Bush's statement last week that he had miscalculated the postwar conditions in Iraq, Senator Edwards will lay out a broad indictment of how he believes the Administration has miscalculated on Iraq, overseas alliances, Afghanistan and other issues.

Senator Edwards, interviewed in Washington on Sunday, said that in Afghanistan, Senator Kerry would push to expand NATO forces beyond Kabul to enhance security, and would double the $US123 million ($175 million) budgeted for 2004 to counter the drug trade in that country.

Senator Edwards also said the Democrats would be able to obtain greater NATO involvement in Iraq, even though NATO has said it will be hard to undertake a large-scale mission there until the work in Afghanistan is completed.

Senator Edwards accused the Bush Administration of abdicating responsibility for the Iranian nuclear threat to the Europeans, who have maintained relations with Tehran and have tried to broker a deal that would end its nuclear enrichment program.

"A nuclear Iran is unacceptable for so many reasons, including the possibility that it creates a gateway and the need for other countries in the region to develop nuclear capability - Saudi Arabia, Egypt, potentially others," Senator Edwards said.

Senator Kerry first outlined the idea of providing nuclear fuel to Iran in June - a proposal favoured by many Europeans - but Senator Edwards was more explicit in suggesting a Kerry administration would actively seek an agreement with the Iranians.

"At the end of the day, we have to have some serious negotiating leverage in this discussion with the Iranians," he said, noting that Senator Kerry would press the Europeans to do much more than "taking rewards away" if the Iranians fail to act."

Iran's nuclear program is not for weapons, Tehran says

Iran's nuclear program is not for weapons, Tehran says: "Iran's nuclear program is not for weapons, Tehran says
August 29, 2004 UPDA0829

• Latest: Iran plans to continue its nuclear program but will provide "guarantees" not to build atomic weapons.

Washington claims Iran's nuclear program is aimed at building atomic weapons, but Tehran says it is directed at generating electricity.

"We are ready to do everything necessary to give guarantees that we won't seek nuclear weapons," said Iranian President Muhammad Khatami at a news conference on Saturday.

Explanation: "As Muslims, we can't use nuclear weapons," he said in Tehran. "One who can't use nuclear weapons won't produce them."

He did not elaborate on the nature of the guarantees, but Iran has already agreed to international inspections of its nuclear facilities and military sites.

Khatami's statement marks the first time Tehran has so publicly said it will provide guarantees to ease international concerns about its nuclear program.

Warning: Khatami warned Israel it would be committing "suicide" if it attacked Iran, following recent threats that the Jewish state might take military action to prevent Iran from making a nuclear bomb.

On the nuclear issue, Khatami said Iran is entitled to obtain capabilities to go through the full nuclear fuel cycle, from extracting uranium ore to enriching it for use as reactor fuel.

"We don't want anything beyond this. It's our legitimate right and no country can prevent us from achieving it," he said.

Earlier this month, Iran confirmed it had resumed building nuclear centrifuges, which can be used to enrich uranium to weapons grade, and declared it should have the right to advanced nuclear technology.

Washington has been lobbying U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to refer Iran's nuclear dossier to the Security Council, which could impose sanctions.

Khatami said Washington has no evidence to demand U.N. sanctions and urged the IAEA not to bow to U.S. pressure when it discusses Iran's nuclear program next month.


Rafsanjani: U.S. attack exacerbated regional crisis

Description of Selected News: "U.S. attack exacerbated regional crisis: EC chairman

TEHRAN (IRNA) -- The Expediency Council Chairman here Sunday referred to the recent actions of the U.S. and other occupation forces in the region resulting in their failure and said that the moves only exacerbated the regional crisis and gave momentum to global terrorism.

Speaking at a meeting with members of Islamic Association of Pupils, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani added that upon the failure of the U.S. attempts to reinforce Israel and get a grip on Iraq's oil resources; they helplessly attacked Najaf which again led to their shameful defeat.

In response to pupils’ question whether he will contend in the 9th term of the presidential elections, he expressed his desire to avoid facing such a position and added that if his presence is deemed necessary and in favor of the Islamic Revolution at any point in time, he would not hesitate to do so.

Asked to elaborate on the issue of nuclear technology, he said that given the crucial role of the technology and its role in the national interests, Iran will no way overlook its right to the effect.

Turning to competent manpower as the main assets of nations and countries, he said the higher the scientific stance and ethics of the young generation, the better assets they will turn out to be in the future.

A report released by EC Public Relations Department said that prior to Rafsanjani's speech, the representative of the Supreme Leader to the Islamic Association of Pupils, Hojatoleslam Mohammad-Javad Hajj Ali-Akbari, presented a report on the activities and achievements of the association and those currently underway."

Iran-Iraq ties growing stronger day by day

Description of Selected News: "Iran-Iraq ties growing stronger day by day

By Hassan Hanizadeh
A delegation of high-ranking Iraqi interim government officials headed by interim Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh arrived in Tehran on Saturday to hold talks with officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Over the past several days, the Iraqi officials have met with Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, Interior Minister Abdulvahed Musavi-Lari, and Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rowhani.

In light of the recent events in Najaf and certain Iraqi interim officials’ harsh and illogical remarks about Iran, which affected ties between the two neighboring Muslim countries, the Iraqi delegation’s visit to Iran is of great significance at this sensitive juncture.

Due to the fact that insecurity in Iraq has a direct and negative influence on other regional states, Iran has made strenuous efforts to help restore peace and stability in Iraq over the past 17 months. However, certain misunderstandings undermined and decreased the effectiveness of its efforts.

The root of these misunderstandings is the fact that neither the occupying forces nor certain Arab states are willing to accept that Iraq and Iran have numerous religious, cultural, and political affinities that cannot be ignored.

Over the past century, many rulers of Iraq, such as the Ottoman Empire, the British colonialists, the Iraqi monarchy, and the Baath regime, attempted to weaken the religious ties between the two nations, but now this relationship is growing stronger day by day.

Cutting off these bilateral relations was one of the goals of the eight-year war that former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein imposed on the Iranian nation. Indeed, Saddam did everything he could to foster animosity between the two nations. However, the Islamic Republic was always regarded as the main base and the frontline of the Iraqi nation’s struggles against Saddam’s totalitarian regime. Thus, the ties between the two nations were never broken.

The collapse of the Baath regime allowed the two nations to strengthen their ties, and the frequent visits of each country’s nationals to the other country’s holy sites are signs of the depth of these ties.

Today, despite the positions adopted by certain Iraqi interim government officials who have accused Iran of complicity in the recent events in Najaf, the Iraqi majority still views the Islamic Republic of Iran as their only real ally.

Yet, events over the past 17 months have shown that regional and international conspiracies to marginalize the majority of the Iraqi nation are being formulated. Thus, this significant segment of the Iraqi populace expects Iran to use its influence in the international arena to neutralize these conspiracies.

There are a number of outstanding political and security issues that need to be addressed in the talks between the Iraqi delegation and Iranian officials.

First and foremost, the Iraqi officials must clarify the issues of the recent kidnapping in Iraq of an Iranian diplomat and Iranian commerce officials as well as the activities of the terrorist Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), which is supported by the United States.

Facilitating Iranian nationals’ visits to holy sites in Iraq and preparing a work schedule for Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s upcoming trip to Iran are also on the agenda of the Iraqi delegation."

Rowhani: Tehran says Iran-Iraq security interdependent

Description of Selected News: "Tehran says Iran-Iraq security interdependent

TEHRAN (MNA) - Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Hasan Rowhani, assured Iraqi officials of Iran's resolve to join hands to establish security in Iraq, an SNSC press release said on Sunday.

In a meeting with the visiting Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh the Iranian security official said the security of Iran and Iraq are interdependent and that is why Iran will not withhold any help to provide security in that country.

Saleh who arrived here on Sunday is to pave the way for the Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s visit to Tehran.

Rowhani also added that the security in Iraq would affect the security in the region, adding that a swift withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq is essential for the Iraqi security.

Pointing to the Iran-Iraq security treaty of 1975, Rowhani said it was a valid basis for mutual border and security cooperation, and condemned the activities of "terrorist" groups.

Rowhani also pressed for the establishment of a democratically-elected government in Iraq. However, he said this would not be achieved in the absence of security and stability in Iraq.

Rowhani praised the role of the Shiite authorities in Iraq in ending fighting in the holy city of Najaf between Shiite militia loyal to radical cleric Moqtada Sadr and U.S. and Iraqi government forces.

"Iraq's history shows the Shiite authority has always been an element for unity, stability, security and independence for Iraq, and a key player in linking other Muslim nations with Iraq," he said as carried by AFP.

"Undoubtedly, good relations between Tehran and Baghdad would both preserve the two countries' national interests and assure the region's stability and security as well," underscored the security official.

Saleh said on Sunday that he brought a message of friendship to Iran.

"I am carrying a message of friendship from the Iraqi government and nation for the Iranian government and nation," Saleh said.

President Mohammad Khatami told reporters on Saturday that Iran calls for close friendship and security in neighboring Iraq despite some unkind remarks by Iraqi officials.

Khatami also added that Iran was among the first countries in the region which recognized the Iraqi Governing Council and considers that formation of the Iraqi interim government as a stepping stone for establishing a democratic government in Iraq.

The Iraqi defense minister has accused Iran of interfering in Iraqi internal affairs, a charge rejected by Iranian officials.

Iranian Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi Lari also stressed the need for stability and security in Iraq and the region.

"The enemies are afraid of good ties and coexistence between Iran and Iraq," Lari told the Iraqi deputy prime minister.

The Iranian minister also said Tehran was ready to hold talks on adopting legal and official measures to regulate the movement of pilgrims between the two countries.

Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi also asserted on Sunday that Iran has supported stability in Iraq.

"Any instability in Iraq has a direct effect on Iran. Stability and calm is in line with the Islamic republic of Iran interests," Kharrazi told Saleh.

"Good relations with Iraq is advantageous to Iran," Kharrazi further said.

Kharrazi also called for immediate release of Iranian pilgrims and businessmen held in Iraqi prisoners and due effort by Baghdad to help prepare the ground for the release of Iranian diplomat kidnapped on August 4 by a group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq.

Kharrazi criticized the U.S. "trial and error” policy in Iraq, saying that the policy has dearly cost Iraq and the region.

Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has called for establishing clear and frank relations between Baghdad and Tehran.

"We have to start building clear and frank relations based on not interfering in the two countries' internal affairs," Allawi said in an interview broadcast by Iraqi public television ahead of Saleh’s visit.