Georgia Invites Iran to Joint US Military Exercises
He was not the first person you might expect to see as an official guest at a US military exercise. But, nonetheless, there he was. Tucked among the ambassadors, diplomats and North American Treaty Organization (NATO) liaison officers watching US Marines and Georgian troops prepare for Afghanistan on March 20, was one of Iran's Tbilisi defense attachés. The guest list for the annual Agile Spirit 2012 exercises had been the task of the Georgian Ministry of Defense, and, granted, Georgians are renowned for their hospitality to foreigners. The country’s open-door policy with Iran is also well documented. But so is its desire to please Washington. The US long has maintained that Iran actively works to sabotage NATO operations in Afghanistan; a charge Tehran denies. On March 17, General Masoud Jazayeri, Iran's deputy commander of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, urged Afghans to create «resistance groups» and set about «hitting American interests,» the Associated Press reported. So, against that backdrop, you might think that having an Iranian military attaché at a US-Georgian military exercise for Afghanistan might make for an awkward moment.
But US Ambassador John Bass, observing the exercises, declined to comment to EurasiaNet.org about whether or not the Iranian attaché’s inclusion among the guests for the event gave him cause for concern. With an accredited delegation in Tbilisi, Iran’s presence on the guest list is “standard diplomatic protocol,” he said.
In terms of Georgian supra protocol, though, all is done to please the most honored guest (in this case, the US); could including Iran among the spectators for this show-and-tell have been a deliberate tactic?
The Georgian Ministry of Defense’s press department only echoed that its invitation to the Iranian embassy to attend the military exercises had been standard procedure , and could not say whether or not it had been the topic of debate.
The Iranian attaché, for his part, appeared to put his time to good use. Unlike his counterparts from NATO member-states, during an eight-minute PowerPoint presentation that included video footage of military vehicles, he took notes furiously -- to the amusement of one Georgian defense ministry official. The live exercise showcased a model insurgency attack and joint techniques for capturing terrorists. Georgian troops in Afghanistan serve with the Marines mostly in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province, where Iran has been accused of backing Taliban insurgents. Tbilisi has committed 1,685 troops for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan, making it soon to be the largest, non-NATO military presence on the ground.
The Pentagon pays for most of the Georgian soldiers’ military training for Afghanistan; in 2012, $14.4 million will be spent on training within Georgia and $1.9 million on training at American military academies, according to the US embassy in Tbilisi.