The best that can be said of the latest exchanges between the United States and Iran is that a dialogue is being conducted - albeit of a bizarre variety. On Sunday, US officials presented what they said was proof that Iran was directly involved in supplying weapons to Shia militias in Iraq. Yesterday, the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, responded in an interview with the US television channel ABC. He categorically denied the charges, accused the US of form in the fabrication of evidence, and said - by the by - that Tehran was prepared to talk.
These are perilous days in US-Iranian relations, as they are for Iraq and the region as a whole, with many different aspects simultaneously coming to a head. The new US commander in Iraq, Lt- Gen David Patraeus, has just taken over; his unenviable task is to impose security on Baghdad with the help of additional US forces. The UN deadline for Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment programme falls next week. President Bush is under pressure at home from antiwar feeling and the new Democratic majority in Congress. Mr Ahmadinejad's position was weakened by electoral losses late last year. And the slaughter in Iraq continues: more than 76 people were killed in Baghdad yesterday in apparently co-ordinated bombings.
This is the context for the latest US allegations against Iran. It may, or may not, be relevant. Claims that Iran has been helping Shia militants in Iraq are not new. They were made 18 months ago by British diplomats in Iraq, who said Iranian-made devices were being used in the south. US officials have gone a step further. They produced parts of explosive devices they said originated in Iran, and they linked them to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and thence to the top Iranian leadership. They also implicated the five Iranians arrested in Arbil recently.
For all the care …