U.S. disbands unit created to pressure Iran and Syria
By Farah Stockman
The Boston Globe
Saturday, May 26, 2007
WASHINGTON: The Bush administration has dismantled a special committee that was established last year to coordinate aggressive actions against Iran and Syria, according to State Department officials.
The committee, the Iran-Syria Policy and Operations Group, met weekly throughout much of 2006 to coordinate actions such as curtailing Iran's access to credit and banking institutions, organizing the sale of military equipment to Iran's neighbors and supporting forces that oppose the two regimes.
State Department and White House officials said the dissolution of the group was simply a bureaucratic reorganization, but many analysts saw it as evidence of a softening in the U.S. strategy toward the two countries. It comes as the Bush administration has embarked on a significant new effort to hold high-level meetings with Iran and Syria.
The group had become the focus for administration critics who feared that it was plotting covert actions that could escalate into a military conflict with Iran or Syria. The air of secrecy surrounding the group when it was established in March 2006, coupled with the fact that it was modeled after a similar special committee on Iraq, contributed to those suspicions.
A senior State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press, said the group was shut down because of a widespread public perception that it was designed to enact regime change. State Department officials have said the focus of the Iran-Syria group was persuading the two regimes to change their behavior, not toppling them.
Nicholas Burns, the State Department's under secretary for political affairs, revealed in a written statement to a senator in the past week that the group was disbanded in March in "favor of a more standard process" of coordinating between the White House, the State Department, Defense Department and intelligence agencies. Burns's statement came in a written response to questions submitted by Senator Robert Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat.
Shortly before the Iran-Syria group was shut down, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice launched a major initiative to engage Iran and Syria in a regional effort to stabilize Iraq, reversing longstanding