Khaleej Times - 23/5/2006
Gulf officials sent conflicting messages about a new diplomatic initiative by Arab countries of the region to help resolve the dispute over Iran’s controversial nuclear program.
Iran was at the top of the agenda in a flurry of meetings held separately Monday between Gulf foreign ministry officials and their Russian and German counterparts.
Speaking to reporters in Abu Dhabi late Monday, Emirates Foreign Minister Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan said the Gulf Cooperation Council, a group of the region’s Arab countries, planned to send a “low-level” delegation to Teheran to relay concerns over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.
“We appointed a low-level Omani delegation ... to relay to Iran the extent of our concerns (regarding their nuclear program). There are worries, no doubt,” Abdullah said after meeting briefly with visiting German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
He did not provide any further details on when the delegation would travel to Teheran.
But at an earlier news conference in the Omani capital of Muscat, Omani Foreign Minister Youssef Al Alawi denied reports that he would represent the GCC in Teheran, and said there were no plans to send a delegation to Iran anytime soon.
“I personally am planning no direct contact with Teheran. Those are just ideas,” al-Alawi said at a news conference after a meeting with Steinmeier.
“A Teheran visit on behalf of the GCC is not on the agenda,” he added.
There was no immediate explanation for the conflicting statements.
Steinmeier, on a regional tour that has so far taken him to Oman, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, hopes to enlist Gulf support in encouraging Iran to reach a compromise on its hotly disputed nuclear program.
The five UN Security Council nations, plus Germany, are working on a draft proposal that would offer Iran an end to council pressure and offer economic incentives if Teheran agrees to suspend uranium enrichment. But if Iran refuses, it would face sanctions backed by the threat of force.
Steinmeier told reporters in Abu Dhabi on Monday that the international community “cannot exclude” the possibility that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, even though UN inspectors have not found much evidence to support the claim.
Steinmeier also said Gulf officials from the three countries he has so far visited “are in complete agreement.”
In Saudi Arabia Monday, the GCC secretary-general met the Russian foreign minister to explore diplomatic solutions to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, one day after the Saudi and Russian foreign ministers rejected the idea of imposing sanctions on Iran.
Abdul Rahman al-Attiyah reiterated a GCC call to spare no effort to clear the region of any weapons of mass destruction, and nuclear weapons in particular.
Late Sunday, Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s longtime foreign minister, held a news conference with his Russian counterpart in which both officials rejected imposing any sanctions on Iran.
“I believe that a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear dossier has not run out yet, so talking about other solutions and imposing sanctions is premature,” al-Faisal said, adding that he remained committed to “avoiding WMD proliferation” and seeking “peaceful solutions.”
The Arab nations in the Gulf have, for the most part, remained on the sidelines of Iran’s dispute with the West, though officials have been increasingly vocal about their own concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.
They worry about deadly pollution should Iran suffer a nuclear accident or possible Iranian retaliation against American military bases in Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain should the US launch a pre-emptive strike.