WASHINGTON -- Iraq's new government said it expects to have good relations with neighboring Iran despite President Bush's characterization of Iran as part of an ''axis of evil," Iraq's top diplomat in the United States said yesterday.
Iran so far has had a positive role in Iraq, and the Iraqi government recently asked it to cooperate even more on security, including sharing more intelligence, Rend al-Rahim Francke, chief of Iraq's diplomatic mission in Washington, said in an interview with the Associated Press.
Rahim said she believes these overtures prompted Iran recently to capture 200 Afghan fighters who were trying to enter Iraq from Iran. She offered few details about the detentions, which had not been previously known. Last week, Iraq's human rights minister said only one Afghan was in custody -- one of 99 foreign fighters held in the country
The United States has hostile relations with Iran, which it alleges supports terrorism, harbors Al Qaeda members, and is pursuing nuclear weapons. Yesterday, Bush said the United States is exploring whether Iran had a role in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks -- a scenario discounted by the CIA.
Rahim rejected any suggestion that Iran supports terrorism in Iraq. ''It is not in Iran's interest for Iraq to be in turmoil," she said. ''If Iraq turns into a haven for terrorists, not only Iraq but all countries in the region will be affected."
She said US officials have not told her of any misgivings about a growing Iraq-Iran relationship.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Iran has an obligation to support stability, but ''we all know that Iran continues to support and supply terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, that they are funneling weapons and money into the groups that are trying to sabotage the creation of a Palestinian state and sabotage the creation of the peace process."
''Our view is that you cannot have it two ways," Boucher said. ''You can't say we want stability, but we are going to support terrorists."
Rahim was a fixture in Washington diplomatic circles long before she was appointed last year by the now-defunct Iraqi Governing Council. She was a founder of the Iraqi Foundation, which pushed for democracy during Saddam Hussein's rule. A native Iraqi who became a US citizen, she holds graduate degrees from Cambridge University in England and the Sorbonne university in Paris.
Her status is somewhat unclear. She does not hold the title of ambassador, and Iraq's new interim government did not include her among 43 new ambassadors named yesterday in Baghdad.
Two of Iraq's neighbors, Iran and Syria, are expected to participate tomorrow in a meeting in Cairo of foreign ministers of Iraq's neighboring states. Iraq is expected to raise the subject of foreign fighters coming across its borders.