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Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Arabs urged to eject U.S. from bases

Associated Press
Dec. 5, 2006

Arabs urged to eject U.S. from bases
By JIM KRANE, Associated Press Writer

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -
Iran's top national security official urged Arabs on Tuesday to
eject the U.S. military from bases in the region and instead join
Tehran in a regional security alliance.

The audacious offer was the strongest sign yet of Iran's rising
assertiveness in its contest with the United States for influence
in the region.

Gulf countries, suspicious of Iran's intentions, are unlikely to
respond to the call and push out the American military or end
U.S. security deals they view as offering them an umbrella of
protection, many here said.

But smaller countries like Kuwait do have to tread a fine line
between not antagonizing either Washington or Tehran. Some Gulf
countries refused to participate in recent
U.S. Navy maneuvers in the Gulf so as not to offend Iran.

Iran's top national security official, Ali Larijani, apparently
aimed to allay Arab concerns and raise suspicion about U.S.
intentions in his speech Tuesday. He told Arab business leaders
and political analysts that Washington is indifferent to their
interests and will cast them aside when they are no longer useful.

"The security and stability of the region needs to be attained
and we should do it inside the region, not through bringing in
foreign forces," Larijani said. "We should stand on our own feet."

Such words are a direct rejection by Iran of the "notion that it
can be contained," said Vali Nasr, an Iran expert with the New
York-based Council on Foreign Relations, who attended the conference.

"They're saying it's in our common interest that the U.S. leaves.
But their larger message is that 'We don't want to take over the
region,'" Nasr told The Associated Press.

Speakers at the Arab Strategy Forum said they believed Iran's
rising clout came as a direct result of the faltering U.S. policy in
Iraq that has put Iran's Shiite allies in control of the
government in Baghdad.

Larijani's proposal outlines what analysts here describe as an
attempt to split the Arab world into two camps: a
U.S.-Israeli-Arab coalition that seeks to contain Iran and an
anti-American, anti-Israeli alliance led by Iran.

Most Arab governments remain firm U.S. allies, but Persian Iran's
tough stance against
Israel and the West has broad grass-roots appeal.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and other Sunni-dominated countries have
expressed misgivings about the growing influence of Iran's
Shiite-dominated government, which in the 1980s sought to export
its Islamic revolution and topple neighboring governments.

"Nobody is asking the Americans to pack up and leave," said
Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a Dubai-based political analyst. "There are
vital American interests here and the smaller Arab countries need

Larijani expressed annoyance at Arab fears about Iranian
intentions, saying Iran and its Sunni-dominated neighbors have
more in common with each other than with the United States or Israel.

"Some countries consider Iran a threat to the region, forgetting
about Israel," he said.

But Tehran's nuclear program is continuing despite the threat of
international sanctions, raising fears of a regional arms race.
And Iran's Shiite proxy paramilitary groups have been gaining
strength in Iraq and Lebanon.

Larijani assured Arab leaders that Iran seeks "peaceful
coexistence" and could replace the security umbrella of U.S.
bases in the region, including in the Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain
and Qatar. Other countries have strong military training and U.S.
security guarantee deals.

"Iran is in pursuit of regional stability through integration,"
he said. "It stands by all the Muslim governments in the region."

Larijani acknowledged that any U.S. departure from the Gulf would
come about gradually, but he contended a consensus was building,
even among America's Arab allies.

"We don't accept the relationship between the U.S. and the
countries of the region," he said. "If you talk to Arab leaders
here, you can sense that they aren't happy with the current
situation. They feel the Americans are bullies. They don't want
the U.S. ambassador ordering them around."

He told his audience he believes Washington is caught in a
"strategic stalemate" in the Middle East. U.S. policies in Iraq,
Afghanistan, Lebanon and among the Israelis and Palestinians are
failing, he said, and pressure on Iran and
Syria has not weakened either regime.

Washington needs a major change in policy — starting with a
withdrawal from Iraq — to improve its standing, and setting a
date for departing Iraq is a first step, Larijani said.

"Should there be a timetable, that would serve as a positive
sign," Larijani said. "The clearest sign would be an exit or
evacuation of American forces from the region."

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