U.S. intelligence is closely following the menacing troop movements along the Iran-Afghanistan border, but beyond calls for calm the key Clinton administration goal is to avoid being drawn into any hostilities.
Officials compared their outlook to the mood in Washington during the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s, when two states hostile to the United States fought each other.Iran and Afghanistan have massed troops on their common border since the fundamentalist Taliban, in control of Afghanistan, admitted Thursday to killing eight Iranian diplomats and a journalist last month.
Iran on Tuesday called for nationwide demonstrations and put its military and top civilian officials on full alert. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said those officials must be ready "for speedy, timely and decisive implementation of whatever decisions the senior political and security authorities deem necessary."
State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said the United States understands the Iranian government's anger over the killing of its diplomats.
"The inviolability of diplomats and diplomatic residences and embassies is one of the oldest rules of a civilized society," Rubin said.
This, of course, is the same rule the United States said Iran violated by the taking of American hostages from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979.
"The capabilities are clearly in place for this kind of military action that we have been urging not to take place," Rubin said.
Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said, "I do not have any indication of imminent military action along that border. Some top Iranian officials have said they don't plan military action. But I think they should speak about their own intentions."
Similarly, the CIA did not change its assessment of the situation along the Iranian-Afghan border following the statements Tuesday by Iran's leadership. If hostilities erupt, they are not expected to be on a large scale, said a U.S. intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity.