- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2007

NEW YORK — Eight Arab countries expressed “deep concern” over Iran’s “hegemonic” muscle-flexing during a meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday, U.S. officials and Arab diplomats said.

Miss Rice assured her fellow foreign ministers that U.N. Security Council action on Tehran’s nuclear program is far from over, and her top aide said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was “completely mistaken” when he declared Tuesday that the case was “closed.” The secretary’s meeting with ministers from six Persian Gulf states, as well as Egypt and Jordan, “was dominated by their deep concern about Iran,” a senior State Department official told reporters.

“They see a hegemonistic Iran trying to exploit the regional flash points and establish a position of superiority vis-a-vis the Arab moderates. They see this pressure particularly in Iraq, but also are deeply worried about the Iranian influence on Syria, which has corrupted the strategic direction of that country,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Arab diplomats confirmed the Americans’ interpretation of what was said at the meeting, which was hosted by Miss Rice on the sidelines of the opening session of the U.N. General Assembly. But they also said they were worried about the recent talk of war, citing comments by French leaders.

The ministers in attendance represent mostly Sunni Arab populations, and their suspicion of Shi’ite-ruled Iran is hardly new. But Mr. Ahmadinejad’s performance during a Columbia University event and his speech before the United Nations this week signaled a much broader and more ambitious agenda, diplomats said.

Many Arabs are “fearful” about Iranian influence on the Palestinian issue and in Lebanon, the senior State Department official said, referring to Tehran’s support for Hamas and Hezbollah.

Arab diplomats also disagreed with Mr. Ahmadinejad that the matter of Iran’s nuclear program is closed. One diplomat said inspections must continue to make sure that no weapons are in the making under the cover of a civilian effort.

“The case is not closed,” R. Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, told reporters. “He is completely mistaken, and the international community is not going to allow him to forget about the fact that his country is operating against the wishes of the Security Council.”

The Security Council has adopted two sanctions resolutions against Tehran for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment, which can produce material for nuclear weapons. A third resolution is in the works, but Russia and China are not expected to agree to it any time soon.

Miss Rice also met yesterday with Libyan Foreign Minister Abd al-Rahman Shalgam to finalize plans for her upcoming visit to Tripoli, probably as early as the end of October. This would be the first time a U.S. secretary of state has traveled to Libya in 54 years.

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