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Interview with Ken Katzman, Congressional Research Service


Relations between the U.S. and Iran have become tense because of Iran’s apparent commitment to a nuclear weapons program. Islamist Iranian groups in Iraq have also strained relations between the U.S. and Iran. Joining VOA-TV’s David Borgida to discuss these issues is Ken Katzman of the Congressional Research Service.

MR. BORGIDA
Now joining us, Ken Katzman of the Congressional Research Service, who watches this part of the world very closely. Mr. Katzman, thanks for joining us. You've been a guest before, and we know that Iran is an area that you watch very closely. Is the U.S.-Iran relationship again getting worse as the day goes by or are we in sort of a holding pattern, tense but not getting any worse?

MR. KATZMAN
Well, there had been signs of some real progress. The U.S. and Iran had, a few weeks ago, for the first time openly acknowledged that they were talking directly on Iraq and Afghanistan matters. But now it seems to have really deteriorated over a series of issues, mainly I think is Iran's commitment, apparent commitment, to a nuclear program.

MR. BORGIDA
And it did seem months ago that Iran was becoming more reformist, more open. What has happened in the preceding months to get us to this point?

MR. KATZMAN
Well, it's development on the nuclear fronts, some revelations about new sites that appear to show Iran is moving toward a nuclear weapon capability. It's also [that] some of the pro-Iranian groups in Iraq appear to be showing surprising strength politically in Iraq, and there's a fear that Iran may be influencing them and in a position to benefit and really control Iraq.

MR. BORGIDA
In a position to you say, but I have to ask you directly, in your view, is Iran playing more of a role inside Iraq?

MR. KATZMAN
Well, the groups in Iraq that are very powerful, the Shiite Islamic organizations, they have organic ties to the Islamic Republic of Iran. It's not so much that Iran is meddling; they want to be meddled want. They have longstanding ties to Iran. They view Iran as a big brother.

MR. BORGIDA
What can the Bush administration do to ease some of this tension, if anything, at this point?

MR. KATZMAN
Well, there are a number of options. Obviously, there is this direct talks channel which developed. It looks like there is going to be some diplomacy on the nuclear issue at the United Nations. The IAEA, the Atomic Energy Agency, is about to issue a report on Iran's nuclear program. And that will be referred, presumably, to the Security Council, where there could be diplomatic activity to get Iran maybe to abandon any nuclear weapons program.

MR. BORGIDA
Now, you keep a close eye, Mr. Katzman, also on Iraq, and I would like to ask you a question or two about what is going on now. In terms of their domestic political stability, there isn't a whole lot at this point. U.S. troops are still there. They are being attacked almost on a weekly basis. How would you describe the challenge ahead for the U.S. troops? But, almost more importantly, is there a future for Iraqis, given what we're seeing in recent weeks of the disruption and chaos in some cities for the Iraqis themselves, with the help of the United States and coalition forces, to come up with a democracy, government, in cities all around the country? That's a tall order.

MR. KATZMAN
It is a very tall order, and it's hard to see a real roadmap for the formation of a truly democratic Iraq right now. Most of the power, I believe, is being acquired by Shiite Islamist organizations, mainly based in Najaf, but they have a lot of influence in Baghdad, too. They seem to be emerging as the likely groups that may take power after the U.S. leaves perhaps. And it's hard to see really how one is going to deny them power since they have such an apparently overwhelming majority in terms of the popular support right now.

MR. BORGIDA
Earlier in the program we talked a bit about the G-8 summit. Is there, in your view, any role for the G-8 countries that can make any meaningful impact on the ground other than the rhetorical declarations that we usually see from these summits?

MR. KATZMAN
Well, I think what the U.S. administration is very concerned about right now is the idea that it may get bogged down in Iraq, that there may be well over 100,000 troops in Iraq almost indefinitely to keep order. And I think the administration is looking for foreign partners who might contribute peacekeeping troops, which might allow some U.S. forces to withdraw.

MR. BORGIDA
It's almost a cycle of uncertainty, though, Mr. Katzman, in a way, because some U.S. officials are saying that allies are reluctant to even send other peacekeepers because the situation is so unsafe.

MR. KATZMAN
Well, there have been some commitments made, and I think that can snowball and get the ball rolling; when a few start committing, others may commit. And it looks like President Bush wants to patch up some of the prewar tensions with France, with Russia, with Germany, and maybe get some commitments from other countries to do peacekeeping.

MR. BORGIDA
Kenneth Katzman of the Congressional Research Service, thanks for joining us and shedding a little light and insight on the situation in both Iran and Iraq. We appreciate your time.

MR. KATZMAN
Thank you.

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