Gates sees Gulf support for Iran sanctions push
Abu Dhabi, March 12, 2010
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that leading Gulf states appeared ready to use their clout to lobby China to support sanctions against Iran over its disputed nuclear programme.
A day after meeting Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah in Riyadh, Gates travelled to the UAE to discuss a Western push for new punitive measures against Iran with Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahayan.
Asked after the talks whether his hosts were ready to help the US overcome Chinese and Russian doubts on sanctions, Gates said: "I have a sense that there is a willingness to do that. Although there is less need with respect to Russia, because I think Russia is pretty much already there. It's mainly China."
Tension between Iran and the West has risen as Washington steps up a drive to secure a fourth round of UN sanctions over Tehran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment.
As Gates toured the Gulf, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad condemned the US presence in the region, warning that Washington was seeking to dominate the region's energy resources in the name of fighting terrorism.
"We warn the countries in the region over the presence of bullying powers ... they have not come here to restore security or to counter drug trafficking," Ahmadinejad said in a speech during a visit to the southern Iranian province of Hormuzgan.
In Geneva, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the UN Security Council was working to draft economic sanctions that would restrict Iranian banks abroad and insurance of shipments to and from Iran.
While he expressed confidence that world powers would reach an agreement, he signalled that China was still holding out.
China's foreign minister said on Sunday that new sanctions would not solve the stand-off with Iran over its nuclear work. Western powers fear the work will allow Iran to develop a bomb, but Iran says it is only interested in electricity.
Gates said Iran's rejection of President Barack Obama's attempts to engage with the Islamic Republic had helped boost international support for more punitive steps.
Asked what he was seeking from Gulf states, Gates said: "What I would like for them to do is, because of the nature of their economic relationship, is to say it's important to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that China be supportive of the UN Security Council resolution."
Iran is ramping up the scale, reach and sophistication of its ballistic missiles and has said it will hit back at Israel and US bases in the Gulf if it is attacked over its nuclear programme.
"I think everybody in the region is concerned about Iran," Gates said, adding that worries were rooted in "rising Iranian interference and covert activities throughout the region, in addition to their missile and nuclear program".
The United States has expanded land- and sea-based missile defense systems in and around the Gulf. Those include land-based Patriot defensive missile installations in the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, as well as US Navy ships with missile defence systems in and around the Mediterranean, officials say.
An aide to Gates said a second Patriot missile battery had arrived in UAE in the past several months but had not yet been deployed. The first one arrived more than a year ago.
The UAE, particularly Dubai, has close economic ties to Iran, with total trade estimated at $14 billion in the last year, raising questions about support for any strong measures against Tehran. But Gates downplayed any concerns.
He said leaders in both Saudi Arabia and UAE welcomed US efforts to craft sanctions that focused on Iran's leadership and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps "and trying to shield the Iranian people as much as we could". - Reuters