Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday briefed a half-dozen key Arab states on U.S.-led efforts to stem Iran‘s nuclear program but achieved no new consensus on how to prevent Iran from developing the technology for a nuclear weapon.
“All there expressed their concern about Iran’s nuclear policies and its regional ambitions,” Miss Rice said after the morning meeting with diplomats from Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia.
Representatives from Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany - which have been trying without success to persuade Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program for several years - also took part in the session conducted on the sidelines of a Security Council debate on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Miss Rice said there was no discussion of new sanctions against Iran, which has defied several U.N. resolutions demanding that it curb its nuclear program.
Those attending are “concerned that there will need to be a way to finally incent Iran to make a different choice concerning its nuclear ambitions,” Miss Rice said. “But this was not an effort to develop a common strategy.”
Divisions among Iran’s Arab neighbors across the Persian Gulf have made it more difficult to contain Iran.
For example, Qatar and Oman, members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, declined a U.S. invitation to attend Tuesday’s meeting, Arab sources here said.
At a regional security conference in Bahrain over the weekend, Omani Foreign Minister Yousuf Bin Alawi told The Washington Times that the incoming Obama administration should focus on talks with Iran.
“I think both sides have been wrangling for a long time,” he said. “The time has come to put everything in a correct attitude.” He added that he would do his best to facilitate negotiations, as he tried to do under the Clinton administration.
Iran’s Arab neighbors are understandably nervous about the prospect of a nuclear Iran but oppose military action and have been reluctant to implement tough economic sanctions.
Ali Banuazizi, an Iran specialist at Boston College, said Iran has tried to prevent Arabs from unifying against it.
In addition to links with Oman and the UAE, “they’ve been working with the Saudis to develop a more amiable relationship,” Mr. Banuazizi said.
Gary Sick, an Iran and Gulf specialist at Columbia University, said the Gulf Arab “strategy is two-fold.”
“On the one hand, they are trying to develop reliable relations with Iran to preclude the sense that they are obvious enemies. At the same time, they are encouraging the United States to take a tough line.”
Without naming Iran, Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, told the Bahrain meeting Sunday that Gulf Arab states should upgrade their air defenses and improve information sharing and intelligence cooperation.
Iran’s U.N. mission, which was not invited to the New York meeting, accused the United States of “distorting the realities about Iran’s peaceful nuclear program and about Iran’s constructive role in the region.”
• Barbara Slavin reported from Bahrain.