Reuters – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, days after calling Iran the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism, ratcheted up the pressure on Tehran on Friday with fresh accusations of interference in Iraq.
Rumsfeld, in Taormina, Sicily, for a meeting of NATO defense ministers, used an appearance in Europe for the second time in a week to talk tough over Iran, which the United States and European Union fear is covertly developing nuclear weapons.
Asked during a news conference about U.S. assertions that Iran, as well as Syria, supports insurgents in Iraq, Rumsfeld said: "We have undertaken a series of initiatives to try to persuade them that their behavior is harmful to a new Iraqi government and indeed harmful to the region. Thus far we’ve not been successful."
"I think they’re making a mistake," Rumsfeld said, "although I can certainly understand that from their standpoint having a free and sovereign and democratic Iraq on their borders probably is not terribly encouraging to their type of government. So I can understand their resistance to that."
Rumsfeld did not make specific allegations of misconduct by either Iran or Syria relating to Iraq. In the past, U.S. officials have accused heavily Shi’ite Muslim Iran of encouraging radicalism among Iraq’s majority Shi’ites and of allowing dangerous weaponry to pass into Iraq.
Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said such accusations are unfounded.
U.S. officials have also accused Syria of allowing foreign fighters and financing to flow across its border into Iraq. Syria says it is doing what it can and says Iraq and the United States have failed to control their own side of the border.
The United States has about 139,000 troops in Iraq fighting a tenacious insurgency nearly three years into the war.
IRAN NUCLEAR AMBITIONS DISCUSSED
Rumsfeld said that during a private meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov in Taormina, the subject of Iran’s nuclear ambitions came up, but refused to elaborate.
"I’m not going to get into substance of my conversation. It was a private meeting," Rumsfeld said.
At an annual security conference in Munich last Saturday, Rumsfeld accused Iran of being the world’s "leading state sponsor of terrorism," a charge Iran swiftly rejected.
Iran has announced it would resume enrichment of nuclear fuel after the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency voted last weekend to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council over its nuclear program.
Iran insists its nuclear program is aimed at generating electricity, but the United States and European countries have said it is seeking to build an atomic arsenal.
On the issue of Iran, British Defense Secretary John Reid said the resolve of Western powers should not be underestimated. "We must never, ever be in the position where … we would never be prepared to stand up for what we believe in," Reid told a separate news conference.