- The Washington Times - Monday, January 14, 2008

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — President Bush yesterday appealed to the broader Middle East to unite against Iran and al Qaeda, and sought to reassure Arab countries that the U.S. will not abandon them if they do so.

As an incentive to one of the region’s most influential nations, the administration will use the arrival of Mr. Bush in Riyadh today to announce a $20 billion sale of advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia.

The arms sale, which a senior White House official called a “big package,” includes precision-guided weapons that the administration proposed to sell to Saudi Arabia last year, only to withdraw the proposal after protests from Israel and the U.S. Congress. Israel has since received a $30 billion, 10-year military package, which an Israeli defense source told Reuters included more technologically advanced Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) bombs than other Middle East countries.

Mr. Bush, speaking yesterday inside the $3 billion Emirates Palace Hotel to an audience of a few hundred, said regional hopes of peace and prosperity are threatened by “violent extremists who murder the innocent in pursuit of power.”

Iran, he said, is “the world’s leading state sponsor of terror,” and its actions, especially its defiance of United Nations resolutions against its nuclear-weapons program, “threaten the security of nations everywhere.”

“So the United States is strengthening our long-standing security commitments with our friends in the Gulf, and rallying friends around the world to confront this danger before it is too late,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush’s coalition-building swing through six Middle East countries is being buttressed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s concurrent three-country trip to the region.

Mr. Sarkozy, since his election earlier this year, has closely aligned himself with Mr. Bush on the issue of confronting Iran, and is also offering an important carrot to Arab states: civilian nuclear-power technology.

Mr. Sarkozy was in Saudi Arabia yesterday, and the French president tomorrow will follow up Mr. Bush’s visit here to the UAE.

In his speech, Mr. Bush attempted to project strength in the face of Iran’s growing regional influence, while laying out an alternative vision for democratic governance.

Mr. Bush lauded the UAE as “a model of a Muslim state that is tolerant toward people of other faiths,” and later dined in the desert with Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, deputy commander of the armed forces, who showed the president his falcons.

Meanwhile yesterday, an Iranian government official accused the U.S. of spreading “Iran-phobia,” and demanded the U.S. apologize to Tehran, according to the Associated Press.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said U.S. military accounts of a confrontation between U.S. ships and Iranian speedboats one week ago in the Strait of Hormuz, in the Persian Gulf, has been exaggerated by the U.S. to “spread Iran-phobia in the region.”

Mr. Bush, before coming to the UAE yesterday, visited with the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet in Bahrain and was briefed on the incident by Vice Admiral Kevin J. Cosgriff, the fleet commander.

A spokesman for Mr. Sarkozy told The Washington Times that French officials had discussed their trip with U.S. officials, but emphasized that international matters were only part of the discussions with King Abdullah.

Mr. Sarkozy is intent on expanding large business deals between the Saudi government and French construction and engineering firms.

Sarkozy spokesman Pierre Jerome Henin said Iran is “of course a matter of discussion, but it’s not a main topic of discussion.”

Also yesterday, the International Atomic Energy Agency announced that Iran has agreed to disclose all its past nuclear program activities within a month.

During Mr. Bush’s visit to Saudi Arabia, he will “urge” King Abdullah to give financial and diplomatic support to pro-democracy forces in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Palestinian territories, a senior administration official told reporters yesterday.

“They will talk about that overall strategic challenge to the region and to stability into the future of the region,” the official said.

The senior White House official also said he did not know whether Mr. Bush had raised the issue of oil prices with any of the Gulf state leaders in the UAE or Kuwait. Oil prices this month briefly hit $100 a barrel, and are predicted to continue to rise.

“It’s a sensitive subject, and it’s something that I’m sure that the president, if he covered it, would cover it in a one-on-one setting,” the official said.

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