Saturday, December 8, 2007
"08/12/2007 Gulf countries, cautious about the nuclear standoff between the United States and Iran, signaled loudly at a regional security conference on Saturday their opposition to any military option against Tehran.
Washington, wrong-footed by its own National Intelligence Estimate in its accusations that Iran wanted nuclear weapons, has emphasized that no options have been ruled out in forcing it to end its nuclear enrichment program. The NIE on Tuesday said that Iran, which insists its current program is for peaceful power generation, had halted a secret nuclear weapons program four years ago.
"We want the military factor (of Iran's nuclear program) to be eliminated," the secretary general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Abdulrahman al-Attiyah said on Saturday. "What we care for in the GCC is finding solutions that enhance security and stability ... and believe in dialogue as a way to solve the crisis," between the West and Iran, he said.
"We are not for the military confrontation option," said Attiyah.
Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Hamed bin Jassem al-Thani went further, calling on Washington to engage Tehran in dialogue to reach a solution. "Direct talks do not mean agreeing (from the start) with the other party," he told conference delegates on Saturday, among them US Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Qatar, in a surprising move, invited Iran's President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad to attend a GCC annual summit on Monday, making him the first Iranian president to take part in a Gulf leaders summit. "I don't think we can try to solve our problems through trying to seal Iran (off from) the region. They are a very important player," he said defending Qatar's decision. He also reiterated that being "pushed into a military confrontation with Iran" would not be in the interest of the GCC countries.
Toby Dodge, a Middle East consulting senior fellow at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), said the GCC fears of military escalation in the Gulf were justified.
"Iran would retaliate to any (US) military action and the Gulf region would be affected... I assume that their strategy is to support an active US policy to restrain Iran (on the nuclear front), but short of military action," he told AFP."