WASHINGTON The State Department said on Thursday it did not support a suggestion from a prominent senator that future U.S. assistance to Iraq be made conditional on Baghdad's cooperation in stopping Iranian aircraft suspected of ferrying weapons to Syria.
"We've been very clear about our ongoing conversation with the government of Iraq, and our view that they either need to deny overflight requests for Iranian aircraft going to Syria or to require that such flights land in Iraqi territory for inspection," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a news briefing.
"We do not support linking U.S. assistance to Iraq to the issue of Iranian overflights precisely because our assistance is in part directed towards robust security assistance including helping the Iraqis build their capability to defend their airspace."
Senator John Kerry, the Democrat who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, suggested on Wednesday that Baghdad should be warned that U.S. assistance could be reviewed if it did not take a firmer line on Iranian overflights.
Iraq on Thursday denied a Western intelligence report that Iranian aircraft had flown weapons and military personnel over Iraqi airspace to Syria to help President Bashar al-Assad battle an 18-month-old uprising.
The allegation, reported by Reuters on Wednesday, said arms transfers were organized by the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Syria's upheaval is politically tricky for Iraq's Shi'ite Muslim-led government. Close to Assad's ally, Shi'ite Iran, Baghdad has resisted joining Western and fellow Arab calls for the Syrian leader to step down, while also calling for a reform process in Syria.
Nuland repeated that the United States wanted to see "maximum vigilance" by Iraq, noting that all countries were obligated by U.N. Security Council resolutions to block Iranian arms sales.
"Iran will stop at nothing to try to help prop up the Assad regime, so we are asking for vigilance and giving advice on how that can be best applied," she said.
(Reporting By Andrew Quinn. Editing by Warren Strobel and Peter Cooney)