May 6, 2006

Gulf Arabs want Iran guarantees over nuclear fears

By Andrew Hammond

RIYADH (Reuters) - U.S.-allied Gulf Arab leaders called on
Iran on Saturday to do more to show it was not trying to obtain
an atom bomb, thereby saving the region from another war.

Gulf Arab countries, wary of Iranian power since the 1979
Islamic Revolution, share U.S. concern at the prospect of Iran
having a nuclear bomb but fear another military conflict in the
region after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Gulf Arabs are also worried about the possible
environmental effects of a U.S. attack on Iran's nuclear plant
at Bushehr on the opposite side of the Gulf, or of leakage from
unmonitored Iranian sites.

"We appreciate Iran's efforts to reassure the region over
its programme," United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh
Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan told reporters after a summit of
the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

"But for the sake of stability and to avoid any
environmental disaster, there needs to be more Iranian
guarantees and we are trying to ensure this."

The minister declined to say whether the political and
economic alliance, comprising Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain,
Oman, Qatar and the UAE, might try to use its close links to
Washington to mediate in the dispute.

He said Iran had "commitments" to its Gulf Arab neighbors
as well as the international community to ease concern over its
nuclear plans.

Iran says its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes
and has vowed revenge if attacked by the United States or U.S.
ally Israel.

"We hope this crisis will be brought to an end through
peaceful dialogue and (Iran) cooperating with the International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)," GCC Secretary-General
Abdul-Rahman al-Attiya said after the Riyadh talks, attended by
leaders of major oil-exporting nations.

The one-day summit took place as France and Britain, with
U.S. backing, drafted a U.N. resolution demanding a halt to
Iran's nuclear fuel programme.

Russia and China, which have vetoes on Security Council
resolutions, may oppose sanctions against Iran, the world's
fourth biggest oil exporter. The GCC states have not said what
their position on sanctions would be.

Popular concern over a nuclear Iran in the Arab world is
mainly limited to the Gulf region. Iran's pro-Palestinian
rhetoric plays well to Arab publics who view their governments
as doing little to stand up to U.S. backing for Israel.

Arab countries bordering Israel are at least as concerned
about the Jewish state's suspected nuclear arsenal.

"These (Gulf Arab) countries do not want Iran to have a
nuclear weapon but they also do not want it taken by force,"
said Saudi political analyst Dawoud al-Shiryan.

Gulf countries, particularly heavyweight Saudi Arabia, fear
pressure on them to follow in Iran's footsteps if obtains the
bomb -- challenging the quietist ethos of Gulf states and their
alliance with Washington.