In unusually blunt remarks, Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba publicly endorsed the use of the military option for countering Iran’s nuclear program, if sanctions fail to stop the country’s quest for nuclear weapons.
“I think it’s a cost-benefit analysis,” Mr. al-Otaiba said. “I think despite the large amount of trade we do with Iran, which is close to $12 billion … there will be consequences, there will be a backlash and there will be problems with people protesting and rioting and very unhappy that there is an outside force attacking a Muslim country; that is going to happen no matter what.”
“If you are asking me, ‘Am I willing to live with that versus living with a nuclear Iran?,’ my answer is still the same: ‘We cannot live with a nuclear Iran.’ I am willing to absorb what takes place at the expense of the security of the U.A.E.”
Mr. al-Otaiba made his comments in response to a question after a public interview session with the Atlantic magazine at the Aspen Ideas Festival here. They echo those of some Arab diplomats who have said similar things in private to their American counterparts but never this bluntly in public.
The remarks surprised many in the audience.
Rep. Jane Harman of California, a former ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, told The Washington Times after the session that “I have never heard an Arab government official say that before. He was stunningly candid.”
“They also know — and worry — that the Obama administration’s policies will not stop Iran,” he told The Times in a separate interview.
Arab leaders, Mr. Bolton said, regard a pre-emptive strike as “the only alternative.”
The U.A.E. ambassador “was thus only speaking the truth from his perspective,” Mr. Bolton said.
Patrick Clawson, the director of research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said of the ambassador’s comments: “This is a significant increase in the concern from the United Arab Emirates.”
“Important Arab officials have privately indicated to me personally and to my colleagues that they would prefer an American military strike on Iran to an Iran with nuclear weapons. However, one can never be certain what they are saying in private to other audiences,” Mr. Clawson said.
Senior Obama administration officials, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, have not ruled out the use of a pre-emptive military option against Iran.
However, administration officials have sought to play down that option, notably because of heavy U.S. military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan and the danger that Iran would respond by disrupting the flow of oil through the strategic Strait of Hormuz or by encouraging more terrorist attacks in the West and in the region.