WASHINGTON – A senior U.S. State Department official, toughening the administration’s line on Iran, said Tuesday there was no doubt that the top leaders in Tehran were directing Iranian forces that the administration is holding responsible for the deaths of hundreds of U.S. troops in Iraq.
Senior Iraq adviser David Satterfield said “there is no question in our minds whatsoever” that Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps troops “are very much under the direction and command of the most senior levels of the Iranian government. Full stop.”
The administration repeatedly has charged that Iranian troops and agents are shipping sophisticated explosives into Iraq, training Iraqi militants and taking other actions counter to American goals. However, U.S. military officials have released no conclusive evidence that Iranian weapons and training were supplied by top authorities in Tehran and have been careful not to say whether they believe senior or lower-level government officials are involved.
Iran has denied providing military aid to combatants in Iraq.
Satterfield’s comments to reporters at a media breakfast come as senior administration officials have been speaking out forcefully on Iran. President Bush warned last week that World War III was possible if Tehran acquired the capability to build a nuclear weapon, and Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday that the United States and its allies would not allow Iran to build a bomb.
Bruce Riedel, a former CIA and White House official, said Satterfield’s comments reflected “the growing frustration the administration is feeling about this” because officials believe Tehran has not heeded warnings to scale back its alleged activities in Iraq.
Riedel, now with the Brookings Institution, said the Pentagon might be more guarded in its comments because “the Pentagon is well aware that its forces are overstretched and vulnerable. They are well aware of Iran’s capacity to retaliate.”
Though he has strongly criticized some aspects of the administration’s Mideast policies, Riedel added that he believed Satterfield was correct in stating that the senior Iranian leadership is directing the operations in Iraq.
The issue of Tehran’s role spilled into public view at the beginning of the year, when the administration began publicizing accusations of Iranian involvement in increasingly sophisticated roadside bombings of U.S. troops.