Iran blames U.S., Iraq for Kurdish refugee dilemma
September 14, 1996
Web posted at: 9:30 p.m. EDT (0130 GMT)
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (CNN) -- Iranian President Hashemi
Rafsanjani and South African President Nelson Mandela sharply
criticized the U.S. policy in Iraq during the Iranian
leader's controversial state visit, which ended Saturday.
Mandela said no nation should try to act as an international
However, Rafsanjani laid equal blame on Iraq for a problem
his country is dealing with: hosting Kurdish refugees who
have fled the hostilities in Iraq.
Rafsanjani's trip wasn't well received in some quarters.
Opposition parties and human rights groups argued that
Rafsanjani should never have been invited to the country
given Iran's record on human rights and its alleged support
of international terrorism.
The United States considers Iran a terrorism sponsor and is
seeking to contain Tehran's influence throughout the world.
Rafsanjani criticized U.S. attempts to stifle Iran's attempts
to do business with South Africa.
Mandela said Friday that South Africa's foreign relations
would not be influenced by the concerns of the United States
or other countries. South Africa will not turn its back on
nations that opposed apartheid and no foreign power has the
right to tell South Africa to do so, he said.
Refugees seek a haven
Tens of thousands of Kurds fled their homes in northern Iraq
after the cities of Irbil and Sulaymaniyah fell to a Kurdish
faction supported by Iraqi troops. Most of the refugees have
made their way across rugged mountain terrain toward the
A spokesman for the Geneva-based United Nations High
Commission for Refugees says many of those who managed to
cross into Iran are sleeping outside, because there are not
enough tents or other supplies to take care of them.
Iranian officials say they are doing what they can to help,
but Tehran's resources are stretched. Iran already hosts
some 2 million other refugees -- more, the UNHCR says, than
any other country in the world.
Speaking in South Africa Friday, Rafsanjani laid the blame
for the situation equally on Washington and Baghdad.
"There are objectives pursued by the United States by
creating such tension, and that is to preserve their
illegitimate presence in the Persian Gulf and the Middle
East," he said.
"And, of course, Iraq has provided them with this pretext by
this invasion of Kuwait and its recent invasion of the
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, the Kurdish faction
that lost in the recent fighting, was backed by Iran, for
whom the defeat presumably marks a serious, though not
necessarily a long-term, setback.
Regional analysts say that in recent years, Tehran has
exercised a great deal of influence in northern Iraq, and
that the Iranian government will not be pleased at the
prospect of losing that influence as Iraqi President Saddam
Hussein reasserts control in the area.
Iran wants to have some control in northern Iraq to guarantee
that no independent Kurdish state can develop there, and to
convince the United States that Iran must be consulted in any
potential regional settlement.
The last two weeks have seen Iran's influence in northern
Iraq diluted, but it remains to be seen to what degree, and
for how long.
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