February 17, 2006

U.S. urges wary Arabs to threaten to isolate Iran

By Saul Hudson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice urged reluctant Arab nations on Friday to threaten to
isolate Iran unless it bows to international pressure to curb
its suspected nuclear weapons programs.

Her appeal to Iran's neighbors came before she visits
Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates next week to
lobby them to join a U.S. campaign against Iran, which has won
increasing support from Europe, Russia and China.

"I would hope that those states that are worried about this
... are prepared to really say to the Iranians: 'You are going
to be isolated from us too if you continue down this road,"'
Rice said in an interview with Arab-based media about her
planned talks on the trip.

"There is really now an obligation to let the Iranians know
in no uncertain terms that this isolation is going to be
complete," she added.

As part of a strategy to woo Arab nations with a message
she hopes resonates with them, Rice also highlighted U.S.
concerns Iran is destabilizing the region by backing militant
groups in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

Arab governments have expressed concern about Iran's
nuclear ambitions.

But they are generally wary of giving explicit support to
any U.S. policies when many in the region are angry at what
they see as anti-Muslim American policies because of the Iraq
war and perceived pro-Israel stances against Palestinians.

Against the backdrop of chaos in Iraq, the governments are
especially reluctant to back American pressure against another

"Most countries in the Gulf do not have to be persuaded
that a nuclear Iran is a threat to them," said Jon Alterman of
the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a
Washington-based think tank. "But they ask if the cure is worse
than the disease."

"There is a certain Arab reluctance to embrace American
solutions that could destabilize the politics in Iran,
especially when they look at Iraq," he added.

Nile Gardiner of the Heritage Foundation, who supports a
strategy against Iran that also includes a credible threat of
military strikes, called Rice's appeal "a hard sell."

"It's worth a try but we should be under no illusion just
how difficult it will be to get Arab nations to isolate Iran,"
he said."


The United States has sought to play down fears that behind
its diplomacy is a push for military strikes on the Islamic

"I believe that the international community has many, many,
many diplomatic, economic, other opportunities to influence
Iran," Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, told reporters. "Not only the United States,
but all the international community can influence the way that
Iran is acting."

"From where I sit, we are a long way away from needing a
military option," he added.

And Rice was upbeat that international diplomatic pressure
would prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, which although it says its
programs are peaceful has failed for years to allay the West's
suspicions it is pursuing a nuclear bomb.

"I think they will run out of time because the world will
get more and more insistent, measures will get tougher and
tougher and I don't believe Iran is a state that can afford
real isolation," she said.

(Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa)