ASPEN, Colo. | The United Arab Emirates ambassador to the United States said Tuesday that the benefits of bombing Iran’s nuclear program outweigh the short-term costs such an attack would impose.
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.”
John R. Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the comments reflect the views of many Arab states in the Persian Gulf region that “recognize the threat posed by a nuclear Iran.”
“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.
Iran has been developing uranium-enrichment facilities, some in underground military facilities, in violation of its obligations to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Military specialists have said a strike on as many as two dozen Iranian facilities could set back Tehran’s nuclear program that U.S. officials have said appears on track to build nuclear arms in a period of as little as two years.
The United Arab Emirates is the union of seven Arabian Peninsula emirates, with a historically weak federal government based in Abu Dhabi. The emirate of Dubai has been a banking center for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and was used as a major transshipment point for the cover nuclear-supplier network headed by Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan that supplied nuclear technology to Libya, Iran and North Korea.
Mr. al-Otaiba said that his country would be the last Arab country to cut a deal with Iran, if Tehran were to go nuclear. But he predicted other wealthy Arab states in the Gulf would dump their alliances with the U.S. in favor of ties with Tehran if President Obama does not stop the Islamic republic’s quest to become a nuclear power.
“There are many countries in the region that if they lack assurance that the U.S. is willing to confront Iran, they will start running for cover with Iran,” he said. “Small, rich, vulnerable countries do not want to stick their finger in the big boy’s eye if they do not have the backing of the United States.”
The ambassador also said that “talk of containment and deterrence really concerns me and makes me very nervous.”
He said Iran has not been deterred from supporting terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah now, when it doesn’t have a nuclear arsenal. So why, he asked rhetorically, would Iran be more cautious in its support for terrorism if it did.
“Why should I be led to believe that deterrence and containment will work?” he asked.
Mr. al-Otaiba also said that an Iranian acquisition would set off a nuclear arms race in the region, predicting that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey would all start nuclear programs if Iran acquired such weapons.
He said however that the U.A.E. would not seek to transform its peaceful energy program into a military one in that situation.
The ambassador in the end stressed that his country would not tolerate a nuclear Iran.
“The United States may be able to live with it,” he said. “We can’t.”
• Bill Gertz contributed to this report.