Simon Tisdall

British and U.S. leaders had foreknowledge of Israeli plans

Teheran: British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush are ``co-defendants'' in war crimes committed by Israeli forces in Lebanon and should be made to answer for their actions before an international court, a senior Iranian Government leader has said.

Manouchehr Mottaki, Foreign Minister, also said British and U.S. leaders had foreknowledge of Israeli plans to launch a ``campaign of aggression'' in Lebanon which he claimed was part of a ``war on the whole Middle East [West Asia].'' But Iran did not fear an American attack, he said, and Washington's plans to transform the region in its image were certain to fail.

Speaking during his first full-scale interview with a western newspaper since the Lebanon crisis erupted last month, Mr. Mottaki criticised Mr. Blair's refusal to back earlier calls for an immediate ceasefire. He also attacked the United Nations Security Council's failure to condemn Israeli actions, including the Qana bombing last week when dozens of women and children died.

But he stressed that Iran was ready ``to shoulder its responsibilities'' in helping to end bloodshed. He praised the role played by France, with which Teheran is in close diplomatic contact, contrasting it unfavourably with that of Britain.

``Some Lebanese officials have said that Israel, because of the many atrocities it has committed and because of the devastation it has brought on Lebanon, has to be prosecuted. They say it has to be put on trial and it has to pay reparations. In such a case I would say that Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair must be co-defendants. I would say that those who have helped with war crimes ... they have to be answerable for their actions.''

Miscalculation

Mr. Mottaki claimed that Israel's attempt to destroy Hizbollah was part of a plan to weaken the entire Lebanese nation.

``The aggression unleashed by the Zionist regime was premeditated,'' he said. ``One month prior to the aggression, there were military manoeuvres carried out by Zionist troops and this tells us that this incident was in the works for some time. They were preparing for this.''

But Israel had miscalculated. ``Its military campaign has failed miserably'' in the face of stronger than expected Hizbollah resistance, he said. That was why its backers, the U.S. and Britain, had opposed a ceasefire for so long.

``This is something that I talked about in my telephone conversation with the British Foreign Secretary a week ago. With this in mind, we believe the British and Americans have a share in the atrocities in Lebanon and they are the reason why all international efforts to date [to end the fighting] have not been successful.

``The British and American policies ... tell me that they did know beforehand the intentions of the Zionist regime.''

Mr. Mottaki said Mr. Bush's ``greater Middle East initiative'' was nothing more than a plan for further ``aggression and occupation and the killing of innocents ... This is a war against the whole of the Middle East.''

- Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006