- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A military strike against Iran’s suspected nuclear sites would have “catastrophic” effects on other Persian Gulf states and on U.S. interests in the region and beyond, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington warned yesterday.

Prince Turki al-Faisal said his country supports the U.S.-backed diplomatic campaign at the United Nations Security Council to end the Iran standoff, adding that Saudi Arabia has long backed a policy of eliminating all weapons of mass destruction from the region.

The Saudi envoy, in a breakfast briefing with reporters, expressed opposition to a military option against Iran if the talks fail. The Bush administration has refused to rule out that option.

Iran’s Islamic regime insists that its nuclear programs are for peaceful, civilian energy use.

“We’re against any military conflict” aimed at halting Iran’s nuclear programs, Prince Turki said. “The results would be catastrophic.”

He said any conflict would be felt immediately in world oil markets and predicted that Iran would retaliate against U.S. allies and interests in the Middle East and beyond.

“It would not just be the Gulf states that are affected,” he said.

The five permanent Security Council members — the United States, France, Britain, Russia and China — plan to meet in Vienna, Austria, tomorrow to try to draw up a list of incentives and sanctions designed to entice Iran to stop its program to enrich uranium, a key step toward making nuclear weapons.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, on a visit to Malaysia yesterday, said Tehran was willing to resume stalled talks with leading powers of the European Union over its nuclear plans. He also repeated Iranian calls for direct talks with Washington.

But Iranian officials insist that they will pursue a full-fledged domestic nuclear program, and State Department spokesman Sean McCormack again rejected the idea of direct bilateral talks.

Prince Turki, who was the oil kingdom’s intelligence chief for nearly a quarter century, replaced Saudi envoy Prince Bandar bin Sultan as ambassador to Washington last summer.

On another issue, Prince Turki said the conservative Muslim kingdom is working hard to eliminate bigoted and intolerant passages in school textbooks and other official publications. A report by two U.S. research institutes last week charged that material in the revised Saudi curriculum still condemns both non-Muslims and Muslims who do not follow the kingdom’s strict form of Islam.

He said Saudi Arabia is still a “developing country” that was forced to “move from a 17th-century society to a 20th-century society in a very short period of time.”

On Iraq, the ambassador said the country and the region need a period of “stability” and that Iraq’s elected leaders should decide when U.S. and other foreign troops should depart.

“Since the Americans came into Iraq uninvited, it is our position that they should not leave uninvited,” he said. “The Iraqi government is the best means for this process to begin.”

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