AP reported that the U.N. Security Council "voted Saturday to impose additional sanctions against Iran for its refusal to stop enriching uranium."[1]  --  "The new resolution asks countries to restrict travel by the individuals subject to sanctions as well as arms sales to Iran and new financial assistance or loans to the Iranian government," Alexandra Olson reported.  --  "Iran immediately rejected the sanctions and said it had no intention of suspending its enrichment program, prompting the United States to warn of even tougher penalties."  --  Reuters reported that "President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had wanted to speak to the 15-nation council but canceled his appearance because visas for his flight crew were delivered too late for his plane to arrive in New York before the vote.  Washington disputes this."[2]  --  Evelyn Leopold noted that the resolution was designed to penalize Iranian individuals and institutions in such a way as not to affect the oil industry — presumably because the West needs the oil Iran exports.  --  "Iran's [Foreign Minister] Mottaki noted the scope of the resolution and said, 'What can harming hundreds of thousands of depositors in Bank Sepah, with a 80-year history in Iran, mean other than confronting ordinary Iranians?'  --  In Washington, U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said that the arms embargo was most significant in that it prohibits a transfer of Iranian weapons to Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas, the Palestinian Hamas movement, Syria, or 'to any state or terrorist organization.'"  --  On the visa dispute that was said to torpedo the Iranian president's visit to New York, the New York Times said that "It was not possible to independently verify either position."[3]  --  Thom Shankar said that Resolution 1747 "was devised to do more than simply punish Iran for its nuclear program [and] was written to rein in what [American officials] see as Tehran’s ambitions to become the dominant military power in the Persian Gulf and across the broader Middle East."  --  "In order to assure a unanimous vote that would symbolize united world opinion against Iran’s nuclear ambitions, lengthy negotiations continued through Friday on a series of amendments from three of the Security Council’s nonpermanent members, South Africa, Indonesia, and Qatar.  Their votes were seen as particularly important, because South Africa is a leader of the nonaligned movement, Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim nation, and Qatar is a Gulf neighbor of Iran."  --  The New York Times said that Iran "dismiss[ed] the sanctions as 'unlawful, unnecessary, and unjustifiable' and said they would have no effect. . . . He said that suspension of the Iranian nuclear program 'is neither an option nor a solution,' and that it was 'a gross violation' of the United Nations charter to use sanctions in an effort to halt what he contended was a peaceful nuclear energy program."  --  DPA's account, too, gave the impression of an Iran increasingly isolated on the diplomatic front.[4]  --  An analysis by Yossi Melman in Sunday's Haaretz tied the seizure of British sailors and marines to the U.N. vote and other developments in the stand-off between Iran and the West, and speculated that "the arrest of the British troops is Iran's countermove.  Such action against U.S. troops would have been unlikely because of concerns of a severe American response.  From Iran's point of view, the British are a 'soft' target, and a convenient way to signal it will respond to any assault on its sovereignty."[5]  --  In Melman's view, "If the British Marines are not released in a few days, as happened in a similar incident in 2004, the crisis may take a sharp turn for the worst."  --  On Friday, U.S. News and World Report published a piece alleging a number of aggressive Iranian actions along the Iraq-Iran border in the course of the past six months.[6] ...


1.

U.N. APPROVES TOUGHER SANCTIONS ON IRAN
By Alexandra Olson

Associated Press
March 25, 2007

http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,,-6506476,00.html

UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. Security Council unanimously voted Saturday to impose additional sanctions against Iran for its refusal to stop enriching uranium -- a move intended to show Tehran that defiance will leave it increasingly isolated.

Iran immediately rejected the sanctions and said it had no intention of suspending its enrichment program, prompting the United States to warn of even tougher penalties.

"The world must know -- and it does -- that even the harshest political and economic sanctions or other threats are far too weak to coerce the Iranian nation to retreat from their legal and legitimate demands," Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told the Security Council after the vote. "Suspension is neither an option nor a solution."

The moderately tougher sanctions include banning Iranian arms exports, and freezing the assets of 28 people and organizations involved in Iran's nuclear and missile programs.

About a third of those are linked to the Revolutionary Guard, an élite military corps.

"It's a significant international rebuke to Iran and it's a significant tightening of international pressure on Iran," said Nicholas Burns, undersecretary for political affairs at the State Department. If Iran does not comply, "there's no question" that the United States will seek a third and tougher resolution, he added.

In December, the 15-member Security Council ordered all countries to stop supplying Iran with materials and technology that could contribute to its nuclear and missile programs. It also ordered a freeze on assets of 10 key Iranian companies and 12 individuals related to those programs. Iran responded by expanding enrichment, a process that can be used to produce nuclear energy or nuclear weapons.

The United States and some of its allies fear Iran's nuclear program is a cover for producing atomic weapons but Iran insists it is only for energy production.

Mottaki said Iran would return to negotiations over its nuclear program only if the United States and its European allies dropped the "unfair and unacceptable precondition" that it first suspend uranium enrichment.

But world powers held out hope that Iran would back down before the dispute escalated even further.

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said nations involved in the dispute had tasked him to resume contacts with Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani "to see whether we can find a route to negotiations."

"The door to negotiations is open; I hope we can together find a way to go through it," Solana said in statement.

Burns said that because of a "tumultuous political environment" in Iran "we believe there is a faction inside that government that wishes to accept this offer to negotiate."

He was apparently referring to criticism from some in Iran that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's confrontational rhetoric has deepened the country's isolation.

Ahmadinejad canceled a planned appearance before the Security Council and sent Mottaki instead, claiming the U.S. failed to deliver his visa in time. The U.S. said it had issued the visa promptly.

Raising tensions, Iran detained 15 British sailors and marines Friday in what it said were Iranian territorial waters near Iraq. The 15 had been on a mission to search for smugglers in Iraqi waters.

The six world powers that drafted the new resolution spent Friday trying to overcome objections from several council members, reflecting concerns that anything short of consensus would weaken efforts to rein in Iran's nuclear defiance.

There were several minor concessions but no changes to the key sanctions agreed upon last week by the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France, and Germany.

The new sanctions -- already a compromise between the stronger measures favored by the United States and the Europeans and the softer approach advocated by Russian and China -- are considered modest. The ban on exports is among the harshest measures, but many of Iran's arms sales may not be affected because they are illicitly sent to militant groups like Lebanon's Hezbollah and Shiite militias in Iraq.

Still, world powers hoped that approving the resolution quickly and unanimously would signal that Iran will face stricter sanctions each time it ignores a Security Council deadline to suspend uranium enrichment.

"This resolution sends an unambiguous signal to the government and people of Iran . . . that the path of nuclear proliferation by Iran is not one that the international community can accept," said British U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry.

In Paris, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said the Security Council gave Iran a clear choice: "Cooperate with the international community or pursue their enrichment and reprocessing activities and worsen, in that way, their isolation."

Mottaki reiterated that Iran's goal was solely the peaceful pursuit of an alternative source of energy.

"We have expressed our readiness, taken unprecedented steps, and offer[ed] several serious proposals to address and allay any possible concern in this regard," he said.

The new resolution asks countries to restrict travel by the individuals subject to sanctions as well as arms sales to Iran and new financial assistance or loans to the Iranian government.

It asks the International Atomic Energy Agency to report back in 60 days on whether Iran has suspended enrichment and warns Iran could face further measures if it does not. But it also says all sanctions will be suspended if Iran halts enrichment and makes clear that Tehran can still accept a package of economic incentives and political rewards offered last year if it complies with the council's demands.

After the latest resolution met with surprising resistance from several elected Security Council members, a reference was inserted to a past resolution from the IAEA calling for the Middle East to be free of weapons of mass destruction. Indonesia and Qatar had wanted the council to make that appeal outright, but that would have had implications for Israel, a U.S. ally widely believed to possess nuclear weapons, though it has never officially acknowledged it.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz -- whose country considers Iran its biggest threat -- said he hoped the resolution would "really be put into effect and carry out the will of the free world, which will do everything to stop the process of Iranian nuclearization."

--Associated Press Writer John Heilprin contributed to this report from Washington.

2.

U.N. COUNCIL UNANIMOUSLY IMPOSES SANCTIONS ON IRAN
By Evelyn Leopold

Reuters
March 25, 2007

Original source: Reuters

UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on Saturday to impose new sanctions on Iran for its nuclear ambitions by targeting Tehran's arms exports, state-owned bank and élite Revolutionary Guards.

Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki immediately rejected the council's demand to suspend uranium enrichment, which can be used for making bombs and to genera[te] electricity. He maintained Iran's program was for peaceful purposes.

The resolution bans arms exports from Iran and freezes financial assets abroad of 28 Iranian individuals and entities, including its Bank Sepah, and the commanders and companies associated with the Revolutionary Guards.

It threatens further sanctions if Iran does not comply within 60 days. If it does, sanctions would be suspended.

U.S. representative Alejandro Wolff told the council that adoption of Resolution 1747 sent "a clear and unambiguous message to Iran" that the pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability "will only further isolate Iran and make it less, not more, secure."

Addressing the council after the vote, Mottaki said the 15-member body had been manipulated by some of its members to take "unjustifiable action" against Iran's nuclear program.

"I can assure you that pressure and intimidation will not change Iranian policy," he said. "Suspension is neither an option nor a solution."

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had wanted to speak to the 15-nation council but canceled his appearance because visas for his flight crew were delivered too late for his plane to arrive in New York before the vote. Washington disputes this.

But both Iran and the big powers, who drafted the resolution, offered further talks, although the sanctions would remain in place until Iran halted enrichment.

"We propose further talks with the Islamic Republic of Iran to see if a mutually acceptable way can be found to open negotiations," British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said on behalf of his own country, the United States, France, Russia, China, and Germany.

In Brussels, the European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said he had been asked by countries dealing with the Iran to contact Ali Larijani, Tehran's main negotiator on nuclear issues "to see whether we can find a route to negotiations," according to a statement.

INTENSIVE TALKS

The new measures are a follow-up to a resolution adopted on Dec. 23 banning trade in sensitive nuclear materials and ballistic missiles, as well as freezing assets of individuals and institutions associated with atomic programs. Saturday's sanctions go beyond the nuclear sphere.

The big powers held intensive negotiations over the past month and conducted talks until the last minute, first with South Africa and then with Indonesia and Qatar, who wanted a reference to a nuclear-free Middle East, which was inserted into the preamble.

Qatar's U.N. ambassador Nassir Abdolaziz al-Nasser, the only Arab members of the council, spoke against the resolution for its potential to destabilize the Middle East. But he voted in favor, presumably because he did not want to be the only negative vote, after South Africa and Indonesia said "Yes."

U.S. and European officials had wanted tougher sanctions, including a mandatory rather than a voluntary call on banks and financial institutions to stop dealing with Iran.

But they argued that the resolution penalized enough individuals and institutions to affect the economic and its military role in the Middle East, without touching the oil industry, the fourth largest in the world.

Iran's Mottaki noted the scope of the resolution and said, "What can harming hundreds of thousands of depositors in Bank Sepah, with a 80-year history in Iran, mean other than confronting ordinary Iranians?"

In Washington, U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said that the arms embargo was most significant in that it prohibits a transfer of Iranian weapons to Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas, the Palestinian Hamas movement, Syria or "to any state or terrorist organization."

South Africa's U.N. ambassador, Dumisani Kumalo, who had submitted amendments that deleted all the sanctions, said he voted in favor because of Pretoria's opposition to nuclear weapons but criticized the resolution for penalizing Iranian institutions beyond the nuclear sphere.

(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols)

3.

World

Middle East

SECURITY COUNCIL VOTES TO TIGHTEN IRAN SANCTIONS
By Thom Shanker

New York Times
March 25, 2007

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/25/world/middleeast/25sanctions.html

[PHOTO CAPTION: Alejandro Daniel Wolf, left, the acting United States ambassador, and Ambassador Wang Guangya of China.]

UNITED NATIONS -- The United Nations Security Council unanimously agreed Saturday to impose new, more stringent sanctions to press Iran to suspend uranium enrichment and rejoin negotiations over its nuclear program.

All 15 members of the Security Council adopted the sanctions, Resolution 1747, which focus on constraining Iranian arms exports, the state-owned Bank Sepah -- already under Treasury Department sanctions -- and the Revolutionary Guard Corps, an élite military organization separate from the nation’s conventional armed forces.

No surprises were in the resolution, which modestly strengthens largely financial sanctions adopted in December in a first, limited resolution. Senior American officials hailed the new resolution as a significant international rebuke to Iran, and they predicted that the new resolution’s prohibitions on dealings with 15 individuals and 13 organizations would leave Tehran more isolated.

The Iranian representative to the session denounced the action as unlawful and unjustifiable -- and vowed it would have no impact on what Tehran describes as a peaceful nuclear energy program.

The Council acted after months of increasing tensions between the United States and Iran, not only over its nuclear program, concerns that many Western and Middle Eastern countries share. The United States in recent weeks has publicly accused Iran of supplying new and powerful explosives to insurgents in Iraq.

And the Council voted one day after naval forces under the command of Revolutionary Guards seized eight British sailors and seven British marines in waters off the coast of Iraq.

In order to assure a unanimous vote that would symbolize united world opinion against Iran’s nuclear ambitions, lengthy negotiations continued through Friday on a series of amendments from three of the Security Council’s nonpermanent members, South Africa, Indonesia, and Qatar. Their votes were seen as particularly important, because South Africa is a leader of the nonaligned movement, Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim, nation and Qatar is a Gulf neighbor of Iran.

The Security Council representatives of those three nations each expressed deep concerns about the final language of the sanctions resolution, but eventually cast yes votes.

The sanctions package approved Saturday, American officials said, was devised to do more than simply punish Iran for its nuclear program, as was the more limited goal of the sanctions vote in December. The new language was written to rein in what they see as Tehran’s ambitions to become the dominant military power in the Persian Gulf and across the broader Middle East.

“We are trying to force a change in the actions and behavior of the Iranian government,” said R. Nicholas Burns, under secretary of state for political affairs. “And so the sanctions are immediately focused on the nuclear weapons research program, but we also are trying to limit the ability of Iran to be a disruptive and violent factor in Middle East politics.”

The resolution calls for freezing the overseas assets of the 15 Iranian citizens and 13 organizations, some involved in the nation’s nuclear programs and missile development efforts and some associated with the Revolutionary Guard.

That corps and a subordinate military unit, the Quds Force, are not directly involved in Iran’s nuclear program. But the United States and Israel say they have supplied small arms and rockets to Hezbollah and Hamas, labeled by the State Department as terrorist organizations.

American intelligence officers also say they have indications that the guard is linked to new and more powerful improvised explosives planted by insurgent groups in Iraq against American and coalition forces there. “If we can begin to limit the Quds Force, which has been supplying enhanced explosive technology to Iraq that has been used to kill our soldiers, that is a significant step for us,” Mr. Burns said in a telephone interview after the vote.

The new resolution prohibits the sale or transfer of Iranian weapons to any nation or organization, and calls on the nations of the world to “exercise vigilance and restraint” in exporting weapons to Iran. The measure invokes Chapter 7, Article 41, of the United Nations charter, rendering most of the provisions mandatory, but excluding military action to enforce them.

The sanction on Iran’s fourth-largest bank was written to halt its use as a conduit for money supporting Iran’s nuclear program.

One decidedly weaker sanctions category in the new resolution calls on, but does not require, nations and international organizations not to enter into new commitments for export credits, grants or loans to Iran except in the case of humanitarian or development projects.

The measure asks the International Atomic Energy Agency to report back within 60 days on whether Iran has suspended its efforts at enriching uranium. If it says Iran has not, further sanctions may be considered. If the agency says Iran has complied, sanctions will be suspended.

The Iranian seat at the horseshoe-shaped table was filled by Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. The seat had been reserved for Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but on Friday Iranian officials ignited an exchange of recriminations, saying that the president’s trip had been scuttled by tardy action from the United States government in issuing the visas.

In reply, a State Department spokesman, Tom Casey, said the United States Embassy in Bern, Switzerland, which handles visas for Iranians, had issued all of the required documents by early Friday and in ample time for the visit. It was not possible to independently verify either position.

After the vote, the Iranian foreign minister made a long and defiant rebuttal to the Security Council, dismissing the sanctions as “unlawful, unnecessary, and unjustifiable” and said they would have no effect.

“Iran does not seek confrontation nor does it want anything beyond its inalienable rights,” Mr. Mottaki said. “I can assure you that pressure and intimidation will not change Iranian policy.”

He said that suspension of the Iranian nuclear program “is neither an option nor a solution,” and that it was “a gross violation” of the United Nations charter to use sanctions in an effort to halt what he contended was a peaceful nuclear energy program.

The resolution included amended language that stressed the importance of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East -- without reference to Israel, a close American ally widely believed to have nuclear weapons -- and emphasized the importance of the role played by the International Atomic Energy Agency in nonproliferation efforts and safeguarding nuclear materials.

4.

U.N. SLAPS ON SANCTIONS, IRAN DEFIANT
By J.T. Nguyen

Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA)
March 25, 2007

http://www.bangkokpost.com/breaking_news/breakingnews.php?id=117653

NEW YORK -- The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Saturday to impose stricter sanctions on Iran for defying international demands to halt its nuclear activities -- a measure that was immediately rejected by Iran.

The council's five veto-wielding permanent members -- the U.S., Russia, China, France, and Britain -- warned of additional measures if Iran fails to comply within 60 days to suspend uranium enrichment activities and return to negotiations.

Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki called the resolution "an unlawful, unnecessary, and unjustifiable action against the peaceful nuclear program of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which presents no threat to international peace and security."

Mottaki said Iran has never diverted its nuclear program and is committed to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) of which Iran is a member.

"Iran does not seek confrontation, nor does it want anything beyond its inalienable rights (to nuclear power)," he told the council in New York. "I can assure you that pressure and intimidation will not change Iranian policy."

Mottaki spoke at the council session in New York in the place of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who cancelled his trip claiming that the U.S. government did not provide proper visas. The US said the visas were approved.

The latest resolution, initiated by the council's five permanent members and Germany, was approved unanimously by the 15-nation council following intense discussions with three members -- Indonesia, Qatar, and South Africa -- which sought to add diplomatic incentives on top of the sanctions approach. Those three countries said they had received the maximum they could get from the six countries and voted in favor of the resolution.

The resolution builds on targeted sanctions against Iran's nuclear technology that were included in the first binding sanctions measures adopted in December, and extends the embargo to include all Iranian arms sales.

"Should Iran chose a different path, we are prepared and willing to adopt additional measures," U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff said. "In the face of Iranian defiance, the U.S. expects the Security Council will incrementally increase pressure on Iran to comply."

British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry read a statement by the foreign ministers of the six countries that introduced the resolution, reiterating their twin determination to seek negotiations with Iran, but also adopt sanctions measures to demand compliance.

"We recognize Iran's rights under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty to develop research, production, and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in conformity with its NPT obligations," Jones Parry said, insisting that Iran must suspend uranium enrichment as demanded.

"We urge Iran to take this opportunity to engage with us all and to find a negotiated way forward," he said.

The council gave Iran 60 days to suspend its programme of uranium enrichment or face "further appropriate measures."

The resolution says sanctions would be halted "if and for so long as Iran suspends all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development" to be verified by the IAEA.

It orders an embargo on military equipment on Iran, which include the supply, sale or transfer of aircraft, battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships missiles, and large calibre artillery systems.

U.S. Undersecretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns called the measures "substantially stronger" than the December resolution, which set a similar 60-day deadline that was ignored by Tehran.

"It's a significant international rebuke to Iran and it's a significant tightening of international pressure on Iran," Burns said in a conference call with reporters in Washington. "And we do believe it's going to leave Iran even more isolated than it has been."

The sanctions measures adopted last year will also remain in effect, the council said. They include a travel ban and freeze of assets of Iranian officials involved in ballistic missiles and nuclear program. The council ordered a ban of supply, sale, and transfer of materials needed by Iran to continue its nuclear activities.

The resolution calls on U.N. members to exercise "vigilance and restraint" regarding the entry or transit into their territories of eight people involved in nuclear or ballistic missiles activities and seven high-ranking officers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Nuclear-related sanctions would be targeted against 10 industries, research and production centers, companies, or groups dealing with nuclear or ballistic missile activities. They include the Ammunition and Metallurgy Industry group owned by the Defense Industries Organization, the Esfahan Nuclear Fuel Research and Production Center, the Karaj Nuclear Research Center, the Sanam Industries Group, and the Ya Mahdi Industries Group.

The resolution prohibits Iran from supplying, selling, or transferring directly or indirectly from its territory arms or related material to other states. It prohibits governments from providing grants, financial assistance, and concessional loans to Iran, except for humanitarian and developmental purposes.

While imposing sanctions, the resolution calls for a "fresh start in the negotiation of a comprehensive agreement with Iran," promising to develop and long-term agreement allowing Iran to have peaceful nuclear power.

The council would support construction of light water reactors, research and development in nuclear technology, and guarantees for Iran's fuel needs. The fuel guarantees would be legal, binding, and provide multilayered fuel assurances to Iran.

The U.N. would participate as a partner with Russia to provide enrichment services for a reliable supply of fuel to Iran's nuclear reactors. Russia had provided, but called off, assistance to building a reactor at Bushehr following a dispute with Iran.

The draft would support a new conference to promote dialogue and cooperation on regional security, international trade and investment, civil aviation, energy partnership, and high technology cooperation with Iran.

5.

Analysis

IRANIAN PRESIDENT AHMADINEJAD SENDS A SIGNAL
By Yossi Melman

Haaretz
March 25, 2007

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/841463.html

The border between Iraq and Iran on the Shatt al-Arab waterway has been in dispute for decades. Thus, the possibility that British Royal Marines were inside Iranian territorial waters when they were abducted should not be entirely discounted. But it would be naive to think that the incident in the Persian Gulf was coincidental -- especially in view of its timing.

The incident occurred a day before the United Nations Security Council convened to decide on further sanctions in view of Tehran's refusal to heed the international demand it cease its nuclear enrichment program. In response, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad canceled his appearance before the Security Council, where he was supposed to present Iran's position.

The cancellation may also be the result of excessive caution on the part of Iran's rulers, particularly in view of the disappearance from Turkey of Ali Askari, former head of the Al-Quds Brigade, the élite unit of the Revolutionary Guard. Askari most likely defected to the West about six weeks ago. The Iranians say he was kidnapped.

Several months earlier, an élite U.S. unit raided the Iranian consulate in Irbil, northern Iraq, and arrested five Iranians, possibly intelligence agents. Iran maintains that they enjoyed diplomatic immunity.

Iran has attributed various subversive activities, carried out by opposition and separatist groups, to the CIA and MI6 agents. Above all hovers the possibility of a U.S. attack against Iran's nuclear installations.

Following the disappearance of Askari, Iranian analysts with ties to the regime wrote that Iran could respond with abductions of its own. It is possible that the arrest of the British troops is Iran's countermove. Such action against U.S. troops would have been unlikely because of concerns of a severe American response. From Iran's point of view, the British are a 'soft' target, and a convenient way to signal it will respond to any assault on its sovereignty.

If the British Marines are not released in a few days, as happened in a similar incident in 2004, the crisis my take a sharp turn for the worst.

6.

Exclusive

IRANIANS HAD SHOWDOWN WITH U.S. FORCES
By Anna Mulrine

U.S. News & World Report
March 23, 2007

http://www.usnews.com/usnews/news/articles/070323/23iran.htm

As the British government demanded the immediate release of 15 of its sailors whose boats were seized by Iranian naval vessels in the Persian Gulf on Friday, U.S. News has learned that this is not the first showdown that coalition forces have had with the Iranian military.

According to a U.S. Army report out of Iraq obtained by U.S. News, American troops, acting as advisers for Iraqi border guards, were recently surrounded and attacked by a larger unit of Iranian soldiers, well within the border of Iraq.

The report highlights the details: A platoon of Iranian soldiers on the Iraqi side of the border fired rocket-propelled grenades and used small arms against a joint patrol of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers east of Balad Ruz. Four Iraqi Army soldiers, one interpreter, and one Iraqi border policeman remain unaccounted for after the September incident in eastern Diyala, 75 miles east of Baghdad.

During a joint border patrol, both American and Iraqi soldiers saw two Iranian soldiers run from Iraq back across the Iranian border as they approached. The patrol then came upon a single Iranian soldier, on the Iraqi side of the border, who did not flee.

While the joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol was speaking with the soldier, according to the report, the patrol was "approached by a platoon-size element of Iranian soldiers." An Iranian border captain then told the U.S. and Iraqi soldiers that "if they tried to leave their location, the Iranians would fire upon them." During this conversation with the Iranian captain, Iranian forces began firing and continued when U.S. troops tried to withdraw.

Iraqi and American forces returned fire "to break contact and left the area to report the incident," the report noted. "The Iranian forces continued to fire indirect fire well into Iraq as Coalition Force soldiers withdrew; for reasons unknown at this time, the Iraqi Army forces remained behind."

No American soldiers were wounded in the incident.

It is possible that Iranians thought they were in Iranian territory, according to U.S. military officials. Such border confusions and disputes happen routinely.

In the British naval incident on Friday, Iran claimed it seized the vessels because they were in its territorial waters. U.S. military officials tell U.S. News that the Iranian forces very likely belong to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, which tend to be far more aggressive than regular Iranian naval forces, which U.S. military officials routinely describe as "extremely professional."

Iranian and Iraqi forces continue to clash in Iraq. U.S. special operations forces have been tasked with nabbing Iranian members of the Revolutionary Guards' al-Quds Brigade, the foreign operations arm of the Iranian military, which also supports Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories.

U.S. forces grabbed six Iranians with alleged ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil in January, reportedly using stun bombs, seizing computers, and taking down an Iranian flag from the raided building's roof. Iran said the building was a consulate and the men were diplomats -- and continues to demand their release. One of Iraq's most powerful Shiite politicians condemned the raid, calling it an attack on Iraq's sovereignty.

American forces may soon be getting further insight into recent Iranian attacks. Earlier this month, a former Iranian deputy defense minister who once commanded the Revolutionary Guards -- and is thought to have considerable knowledge of Iran's national security network -- left the country and is said to be cooperating with Western intelligence agencies, sharing information on links between Iran and Hezbollah in south Lebanon, for example. Iranian officials said the official, Ali Rez Asgari, was kidnapped by Western agents.

Shortly afterward, Iran threatened to retaliate in Europe for the supposed kidnapping, what it claims to be the most recent in a series of abductions in the past three months. According to the British Sunday Times, in the Revolutionary Guards' weekly newspaper this week, a columnist believed to have close ties to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wrote: "We've got the ability to capture a nice bunch of blue-eyed, blond-haired officers and feed them to our fighting cocks. Iran has enough people who can reach the heart of Europe and kidnap Americans and Israelis."