WASHINGTON — The United States said Thursday it did not support linking aid to Iraq to US demands for Baghdad to inspect Iranian planes flying over its territory for illicit arms shipments to the Syrian regime.
"We do not support linking US assistance to Iraq to the issue of the Iranian overflights precisely because our assistance is in part directed toward robust security assistance, including helping the Iraqis build their capability to defend their airspace," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
Washington has been calling on Baghdad to ensure that all Iranian planes flying over its airspace are told to land and then checked for weapons.
Tehran has told Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki the planes are carrying humanitarian aid to Syria, where the opposition has been fighting since last year to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
But many in the US government suspect the planes are ferrying military equipment to the Assad regime.
"We have clear concerns about Iran arming Syria. We also have UN Security Council resolutions that expressly commit countries to support the arms embargo from Iran to other countries," Nuland told reporters.
"We're asking the Iraqis to be vigilant with regard to any abuse of their airspace by Iran regardless of where it starts and where it's finished that could be in violation of these UN Security Council resolutions."
During Wednesday's nomination hearing for Stephen Beecroft, tapped to become the next US ambassador to Iraq, Senator John Kerry asked him to impress American frustrations at the situation on Baghdad.
"If so many people have entreated the government to stop and that doesn't seem to be having an impact, that sort of alarms me a little bit," Kerry said.
It sends "a signal to me maybe we should make some of our assistance or some of our support contingent on some kind of appropriate response," he told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"It just seems completely inappropriate that we're trying to help build their democracy, support them, put American lives on the line, money into the country and they're working against our interest so overtly."
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