- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 5, 2006

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran’s top national security official urged Arabs yesterday to expel the U.S. military from bases in the region and instead join Tehran in a regional security alliance.

The offer was a strong sign of Iran’s rising assertiveness in its contest with the United States for influence in the region.

Persian Gulf countries, suspicious of Iran’s intentions, are unlikely to respond to the call and push out the U.S. military or end U.S. security deals they view as offering them an umbrella of protection, many here said.

But smaller countries, such as Kuwait, do have to tread a fine line of not antagonizing either Washington or Tehran. Some Gulf countries refused to participate in recent U.S. Navy maneuvers in the Gulf so as not to offend Iran.

Iran’s top national security official, Ali Larijani, apparently aimed to allay Arab concerns and raise suspicion about U.S. intentions in his speech yesterday. He told Arab business leaders and political analysts that Washington is indifferent to their interests and will cast them aside when they are no longer useful.

“The security and stability of the region needs to be attained and we should do it inside the region, not through bringing in foreign forces,” Mr. Larijani said. “We should stand on our own feet.”

Such words are a direct rejection by Iran of the “notion that it can be contained,” said Vali Nasr, an Iran specialist with the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, who attended the conference.

Speakers at the Arab Strategy Forum said they think Iran’s rising clout came as a direct result of the faltering U.S. policy in Iraq that has put Iran’s Shi’ite allies in control of the government in Baghdad.

Mr. Larijani’s proposal outlines what analysts here describe as an attempt to split the Arab world into two camps: a U.S.-Israeli-Arab coalition that seeks to contain Iran and an anti-American, anti-Israeli alliance led by Iran.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for wiping Israel off the map and expressed doubts about the Holocaust. Yesterday, Iran’s foreign ministry said it will hold a two-day international conference next week on the Holocaust to examine the event without any “preconceived ideas.”

Most Arab governments remain firm U.S. allies, but Persian Iran’s tough stance against Israel and the West has broad grass-roots appeal.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and other Sunni-dominated countries have expressed misgivings about the growing influence of Iran’s Shi’ite-dominated government, which in the 1980s sought to export its Islamic revolution and topple neighboring governments.

“Nobody is asking the Americans to pack up and leave,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a Dubai-based political analyst. “There are vital American interests here, and the smaller Arab countries need protection.”

Mr. Larijani expressed annoyance at Arab fears about Iranian intentions, saying Iran and its Sunni-dominated neighbors have more in common with each other than with the United States or Israel.

He assured Arab leaders that Iran seeks “peaceful coexistence” and could replace the security umbrella of U.S. bases in the region.

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