DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Iran's president led a raucous anti-American rally in this tightly controlled U.S. ally in the Persian Gulf, a day after a low-key visit by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney aimed at countering Tehran's influence in the region.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a cheering crowd Sunday that America was to blame for creating instability and robbing the region of its wealth.
"We are telling you to leave the region. This is for your benefit and the benefit of your nation," Ahmadinejad shouted to the crowd of thousands at a soccer stadium. "The nations of the region can no longer take you forcing yourself on them. The nations of the region know better how to create peace and security."
Ahmadinejad's visit was the first by an Iranian head of state to this Sunni-led Arab country since its independence in 1971 and his rally was remarkable in a country where political parties are banned and power is held solely by tribal families.
Cheney's quiet visit Saturday to the Emirates, which hosts three American military bases, was part of a tour of the region to try to curb Iran's growing influence. On Friday, from an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, Cheney warned Iran that the U.S. and its allies will keep it from restricting sea traffic as well as from developing nuclear weapons.
The Iranian president has ratcheted up his nation's assertiveness in the Persian Gulf, capitalizing on the Bush administration's unpopularity to challenge Washington's alliances with Arab countries in the Persian Gulf.
Sunni royal families in the Emirates and elsewhere in the region also fear Iran's growing influence, especially the Shiite country's nuclear program, and worry about being sandwiched in a U.S.-Iran war.
Ahmadinejad wants the Emirates, Oman and the other Persian Gulf Arab countries to drop their military alliances with Washington and join Iran in a regional effort to maintain stability in the energy-rich region. Washington maintains 40,000 troops on land bases in Persian Gulf countries outside Iraq and has 20,000 sailors and Marines in the region.
"Every time your name is mentioned, hatred builds up," Ahmadinejad said of the United States. "Go fix yourself. This is Iran's advice to you. Leave the region."
One woman in the crowd shouted "I love you!" and Ahmadinejad paused to respond with a polite "thank you."
"God bless you for loving Iran so dearly," he told the crowd. "I love you."
The crowd, many of them expatriate Iranians, cheered Ahmadinejad and waved Iranian flags. One group carried a black banner bearing a yellow symbol seen on nuclear fallout shelters. Chants of "Down with the USA!" and "Nuclear energy is our right!" frequently interrupted the speech.
Washington and Tehran said Sunday that the two countries would hold talks in Baghdad about Iraq's security situation. But Iran remains locked in a standoff with the U.S. and its allies over White House allegations that Tehran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies the claims, saying its program is for generating electricity.
The Iranian president received a red-carpet welcome at Abu Dhabi International Airport, where he was greeted by Emirates President Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Dubai leader Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is also the country's prime minister.
During his two-day visit, Ahmadinejad is to meet with government leaders in Abu Dhabi as well as Dubai, one of the world's fastest-growing cities and home to most of the 500,000-strong Iranian expatriate community.