Iran - a nation branded by George W. Bush as part of an "axis of
evil" - is signaling to Washington that some Iran-US interests
dovetail in America's "war on terror."
Iran's low-key handover to Saudi Arabia of 16 Al Qaeda suspects
is a deliberate message to the US that may hint at future neutrality
- if not actual cooperation - in any US military action against
Iraq, say Iranian and Western analysts.
Iran was aware that the US would be given any information gleaned
from the Al Qaeda fighters, who entered Iran from Afghanistan over
several months and were expelled in June, said the Saudi foreign
minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, in interviews with The Washington
Post and ABC News over the weekend.
"This is very significant: Tehran did this deliberately, as a
sign to Washington that Iran is serious about combating terrorism,
and handing over Al Qaeda members," says Sadiq Zibakalam, a
political scientist at Tehran University in Iran. "It is a gesture
of goodwill from Tehran to Washington... and shows that some of the
charges that President Bush levels at the Islamic regime about
supporting terrorism are inaccurate."
President George W. Bush in January called Iran part of an "Axis
of Evil," along with Iraq and North Korea, despite months of secret
Iranian intelligence help provided to US forces during the
Afghanistan campaign last fall. At that time, American and Iranian
diplomats alike hoped those links might evolve into a mechanism for
Instead, the Pentagon accused Iran of meddling in Afghanistan, an
arms shipment with Iranian ties was found en route to Palestinian
militants, and Mr. Bush coined the "Axis of Evil."
Hope amid hostility
Since then, hostile rhetoric has barely wavered. US officials
accuse Iran of seeking weapons of mass destruction and want to
scuttle a Russian contract to build Iran's first nuclear power
"At the beginning of last December, Iranians would have been open
to the same kind of cooperation on Iraq as they turned out to be on
Afghanistan, but they revised their view in light of the nose-dive
in relations," says Rosemary Hollis, an analyst at the Royal
Institute of International Affairs in London.
"The question is: Would [Iran] be hostile to US action?" asks Ms.
Hollis. "They are still giving indications that, if the US played it
right, they could actually be helpful."
If the handover of Al Qaeda fighters to Saudi Arabia is read that
way, Hollis adds, "I don't think [the Iranians] will mind."
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld earlier this year accused Iran
of being "permissive" in allowing Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters to
seek refuge in Iran. …