Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Iran Seeks Arab Support in Dispute over Nuclear Program

Dow Jones Newswires:
Iran hopes to gain support among countries in the Persian Gulf in its confrontation with the West over Tehran's disputed nuclear program, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Tuesday. READ MORE

During his first stop on a three-country tour of the region, Iran's top diplomat was asked if he had sought Arab mediation in the dispute that saw the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency last month threaten to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions. The U.S. has accused Iran of trying to build atomic weapons.

"Our ties with Arab countries in the southern Persian Gulf includes this topic. Something of the sort exists among us," Mottaki said at a news conference.

Mottaki, who spoke through an interpreter, did not elaborate but said Tehran's nuclear activities were "peaceful" and Iran would not give up its right to " enjoy that."

The foreign minister sidestepped questioning about comments from his Saudi Arabian counterpart that criticized U.S. policy in Iraq, saying it had led to Iranian domination of the country.

Last week, Prince Saud al-Faisal said U.S. handling of the insurgency and politics in Iraq had served to deepen sectarian divisions, effectively leaving power with Iran, Iraq's non-Arab eastern neighbor.

There is increasing concern in the Arab world over Iran's perceived growing influence in Iraq, where a Shiite-dominated government is in charge. Iran, which is mainly Persian and run by a Shiite Muslim theocracy, denies it is interfering in Iraq.

The vast majority of Muslims in the Arab world are Sunnis, who form a 20% minority in Iraq.

Iraq's Sunni Arab neighbors fear Iranian influence could embolden the country's Shiite majority and cause a major political shift in the region, including a possible permanent division of Iraq into its component Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish regions.

Mottaki, however, said Iran supported Arab efforts to stabilize Iraq in this " extremely sensitive phase." He said the situation in Iraq and security in the area would be at the top of his agenda in talks with Saudi officials.

Iraqis will vote on a new constitution Oct. 15, and the country's Sunni leaders are mobilizing to defeat it in the referendum.

After meetings in Kuwait, Mottaki traveled to Bahrain later Tuesday, where he was met at the airport by newly appointed Foreign Minister Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa.