LONDON (Reuters) - Washington is confident British prime minister-in-waiting Gordon Brown will not pull British troops out of Iraq early, a senior U.S. official said on Monday.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official told reporters Washington had an “excellent level of discussion and dialogue” with the British government on future policy in Iraq.
Finance minister Brown was confirmed last week as Britain’s next prime minister.
Prime Minister Tony Blair’s resignation after a decade in power was forced in part by voter anger over his support for the U.S.-led war and British media has been buzzing with talk that Brown may speed up the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq to assuage the public.
“We have absolutely no such understanding. We believe there will be continuity within the UK government over the approach to Iraq and Afghanistan,” the official said.
“No, I would not look at any precipitate, unilateral or sudden departure here. We do not believe we can afford to leave Iraq,” the official said.
Brown has said there should be greater emphasis on political reconciliation and economic development so Iraqis feel they have more of a stake in their future.
He said he would consult the Iraqi government and people in the next few weeks and then suggest new ideas.
The U.S. official said Washington’s discussions with members of the Sunni insurgency had not produced results and that more pressure should be brought to bear on Iran to stop funding and training members of violent Shi’ite groups.
“Is there something ... in (U.S.) insurgent reach-out that produces results? The answer is no. To date — no,” the official said.
“The problem with the many, many discussions ... has been that whenever (the individuals) have been challenged to demonstrate their credentials by a significant, meaningful reduction in violence, that test has largely or entirely failed.”
The official said persuading Syria to curtail the flow through its borders of foreign suicide bombers was key, as was resisting Tehran’s attempts to spread its influence in the region.
“What Iran is doing in Iraq is not confined to Iraq, in Iran’s strategic view,” he said, warning that Tehran would take a more aggressive stance in other issues such as its pursuit of a nuclear program “until someone pushes back”.
He said support for further U.N. sanctions against Tehran was “ever increasing” and that Tehran had lost the support of China and Russia.
Iran has refused to bow to Western demands and flouted two U.N. resolutions calling on it to halt nuclear enrichment. Tehran insists its program aims only to yield electricity. The West suspects it of trying to build nuclear weapons.
Tehran rejects accusations of interference in Iraq. Syria blames the flow of bombers on the United States, saying it does not help control the porous border.