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Monday, 11 February, 2002, 17:52 GMT
Analysis: Iran and the 'axis of evil'
Anti-American demonstration in Tehran
Reform in Iran may be set back by US policies
By BBC News Online's Tarik Kafala

Iran's inclusion in Washington's "axis of evil" has caused anger in Iran and consternation among several European governments.

In the eyes of United States' officials, American-Iranian relations since the 1979 Iranian revolution and Iran's political and material backing for radical groups in the Middle East are plenty to justify its membership of the axis.

Iran aggressively pursues weapons [of mass destruction] and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hopes from freedom

President Bush in his "axis of evil" address
Less easy to establish is Washington's assertion that Iran is attempting to acquire weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, that might threaten the US and its allies.

Iran has denied, and European officials are highly dubious about, the US declaration that Tehran exports global terror and has links to Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

'Over simplifying'

European officials warn that the way President Bush denounced Iran in his state of the nation address is deeply unwise.

According to the European commissioner in change of external relations, Chris Patten, "absolutist and simplistic".

Today we are threatened by a simplistic quality in US policy that reduces all the problems of the world to the struggle against terrorism. It is not properly thought out

French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine
Dissenters from Washington's "axis of evil" say that the concept can only radicalise Tehran further, make the work of Iranian moderates and reformists far harder and in the long run destabilise the region.

In 1979, the Iranian revolution gave a great boost to radical Islam around the world.

More recently, Iran has been undergoing a process of reform encouraged by diplomatic engagement and trade with European states - and to a lesser extent with the US.

All that has been achieved by reform and international engagement, Washington's critics argue, could be stopped and reversed by Tehran's inclusion in the "axis of evil".

Turning on Iran

Some analysts were surprised at Iran's inclusion.

At the start of the US campaign in Afghanistan Iran was mild in its criticism of the US military action.

It had always opposed the Taleban and welcomed the capture of Kabul by the Northern Alliance.

Crucially, Tehran played an important role behind the scenes in helping to cement the Bonn agreement on the Afghan interim government.

However, since then, Washington has accused Iran of trying to foment unrest in Western Afghanistan and of sheltering al-Qaeda fighters.

Washington's stance was hardened by the allegation, denied by Iran and the Palestinians, that Tehran was behind an intercepted arms shipment that was headed for the Gaza Strip.

Iranian support for Hezbollah is also an offence in the eyes of Israel and Washington.

Hezbollah has long been categorised by the US as a terrorist organisation, but is seen in Lebanon and the region as a national liberation movement.

By taking such a hardline on Iran, Washington is once again falling in line with Israel's view of its most serious strategic long term threat.

Israeli officials insist that Iran is less than three years from developing a nuclear weapon and is developing long range weapons that could deliver it.

Nuclear programme?

It is by no means certain that Iran has or is pursuing a military nuclear programme.

With Russian help Iran is building civilian nuclear power generators. Washington alleges that the civilian programme is being used to disguise a nuclear weapons programme.

There are strong anti-proliferation arguments for trying to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, though these arguments could equally apply to Israel, Pakistan or India.

Iran has signed the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1997, but it has declared no chemical or biological weapons stocks or production facilities.

However, the Centre for Nonproliferation Studies reports chemical weapons including cyanogen chloride and mustard gas left over form the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.

There is little dispute that Iran has a sophisticated missile programme, including 1,300 kilometre Shahab-3 missile.

See also:

10 Feb 02 | Middle East
Khatami urges mass anti-US protests
07 Feb 02 | Middle East
Iran warns US against attack
06 Feb 02 | Americas
Analysis: The 'axis of evil' debate
06 Feb 02 | Americas
US softens line on 'evil axis'
31 Jan 02 | Middle East
Iran lashes out at Bush
30 Jan 02 | Americas
'Suspects' condemn Bush speech
30 Jan 02 | Americas
Iran accuses Bush of war-mongering
30 Jan 02 | Americas
Bush warns on terror
19 Jan 02 | South Asia
US warns Iran on Afghan militants
27 Dec 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Iran
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