DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Iran's top national security official urged his Arab neighbors Tuesday to eject the U.S. military from American bases in the region and instead join Tehran in a regional security alliance.
Ali Larijani told Arab leaders attending a conference here that Washington is indifferent to their interests and will cast them aside as soon as 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 told an audience of business and political leaders from the Arab world and elsewhere, including the United States. "We should stand on our own feet."
The speech was one of the most explicit expressions yet of rising Iranian assertiveness in its contest with the United States for influence in the region.
Many Sunni Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, have expressed misgivings about the growing influence of the Persian Shiite-dominated government in Tehran, which once sought to export its Islamic revolution and topple neighboring governments.
Tehran's nuclear program is continuing despite the threat of international sanctions, raising fears of a regional nuclear arms race. And Iran's Shiite proxy paramilitary groups have been gaining strength in Iraq and Lebanon.
Larijani assured Arab leaders listening to his speech that Iran seeks "peaceful coexistence" and could replace the security umbrella of U.S. bases now present in the region, including in 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 expressed annoyance at Arab fears about Iranian intentions, saying Iran and its Sunni-dominated neighbors had 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," Larijani said.
After eliminating Iran's closest enemies — Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan — the United States also worries about Iran's growing influence, although many believe it is highly unlikely any Arab countries would cut security ties with the United States.
Some small Gulf countries did, however, decline to participate in recent U.S.-led maneuvers in the Gulf, apparently for fear of antagonizing Iran.
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," Larijani 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 that 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."