Arabs seen as alarmed by Iran in leaked US cables

Leaked U.S. diplomatic memos have exposed a depth of alarm across the Middle East over the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran that has never been expressed publicly: Arab leaders said to be urging that Iran be attacked if it refuses to concede to international demands.

Iran's president scoffed Monday at revelations that its Arab neighbors have been lobbying the U.S. to use force — and also pointed the finger at Washington for mysterious bombings that killed one nuclear scientist and badly injured another.

But Israel trumpeted the State Department's secret dispatches that were obtained by document discloser WikiLeaks as proof that Arabs agree Iran poses the chief danger in the region.

Starkly opposing views from Tehran and Tel Aviv are a fact of life in the Middle East. But in the harsh light — and often blunt words — of the massive release of the State Department cables, they are seen in a new context: Israel and Arab nations finding rare common ground and Iran's leadership left to wonder whether it will now face a tougher line from across the Gulf.

It also could alter the tone of talks over Iran's nuclear program. Those are scheduled to resume Dec. 5 between Iran and world powers, including the United States, after a yearlong impasse that brought tighter U.N. and American sanctions on Tehran and some stinging blows — including international oil firms leaving Iran and Russia's refusal to deliver a long-awaited anti-aircraft system to Iran's military.

Iran has so far used delaying tactics and counterproposals to sidestep U.N.-drafted demands to halt its uranium enrichment in exchange for reactor-ready fuel from abroad. The revelations in the U.S. memos — including American claims that Iran obtained advance missiles from North Korea — could bring sharper calls for Iran to show signs of good-faith negotiations.

"What was said privately is now in the open," said Sami Alfaraj, head of the Kuwait Center for Strategic Studies. "The Arab world is growing tired of Iran as a source of instability and trying to force itself on Arab affairs. Iran maybe will face a stronger and more unified voices of opposition in the region."

Arab worries have been expressed in public in careful, diplomatic language with the emphasis on dialogue and diplomacy.

The accounts of meetings with Arab leaders in some of the State Department cables, however, suggest a sense of growing urgency and frustration over Iran's nuclear ambitions and its stonewalling tactics against international mediation and snubbing of President Barack Obama's attempts at outreach.

One message said Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa — whose nation hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet — "argued forcefully for taking action to terminate their (Iran's) nuclear program, by whatever means necessary. That program must be stopped. The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it."

Another quoted Zeid Rifai, then president of the Jordanian senate, telling a U.S. official that the options are to either "bomb Iran, or live with an Iranian bomb. Sanctions, carrots, incentives won't matter."

Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince in the UAE's emirate of Abu Dhabi, called Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "young and aggressive" and believed "this guy is going to take us to war. ... It's a matter of time."

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak was described as referring repeatedly to Iranians as "liars" and denouncing them for trying to export a Shiite "revolution" across the mostly Sunni Muslim Middle East.

But perhaps the strongest views resonated from Saudi Arabia, the cornerstone U.S. ally in the Gulf and the main counterweight against Iran.

One cable described how Saudi's King Adbullah often urged a U.S.-led attack against Iran to "cut off the head of the snake" and cripple its nuclear weapons program, which Saudi officials and other fear could touch off a frightening nuclear arms race in the region.

Such calls for another Middle East war — just as the long Iraqi fight is drawing down — certainly don't mean a consensus across the region. Nations such as Qatar have tried to play a mediator role between Iran and Arab states, and Dubai's leaders will instinctively resist anything that could disrupt its critical trading ties with Iran.

The leaked documents could take center stage at next week's summit of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Abu Dhabi. In an unusual twist, the more the Gulf leaders complain about Iran, the more their priorities overlap with Israel's.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested that a unified front with Arab nations against Iran could produce a "breakthrough" in efforts to bring peace to the region.

"The greatest threat to world peace stems from the arming of the regime in Iran. More and more states, governments and leaders in the Middle East and in far reaches of the world understand this is a fundamental threat," Netanyahu told a news conference in Tel Aviv.

Netanyahu said it's clear other countries in the region share Israel's assessment about Iran "even if what they say in public is not what they always say in private."

If "leaders will say in public what they say in private, there might be a breakthrough," he added. "Leaders should be ready to tell their people the truth."

In one U.S. memo, American envoys tell Russian security officials they believe Iran acquired missiles from North Korea. The missiles, the Americans claim, would nearly double the reach of Tehran's arsenal and cover Moscow and capitals in Western Europe.

In Tehran, however, Ahmadinejad struck back by calling the State Department cables "mischief" aimed at trying to sour Iran's relations with its Arab neighbors.

"We don't give any value to these documents," Ahmadinejad told a news conference. "It's without legal value. Iran and regional states are friends. Such acts of mischief have no impact on relations between nations."

Arab nations just across the Persian Gulf are known to be wary of Iran's rising regional influence, military power and nuclear activity. The leaked documents, however, reveal a much higher degree of alarm in the calls for U.S. military action.

Ahmadinejad questioned the credibility of the information in the U.S. documents and accused Washington of pursuing a strategy resembling "an intelligence and psychological war game."

He also accused Israel and the United States of being behind attacks on two nuclear scientists in Tehran, where assailants on motorcycles attached magnetized bombs to their cars in separate incidents. One scientist was killed, the other injured.

The wounded scientist, Fereidoun Abbasi, is specified by a 2007 U.N. resolution for sanctions because of suspected links to secret nuclear activities, describing him as a Defense Ministry scientist. Iranian media said he was a member of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, the country's strongest military force.

The scientist who was killed, Majid Shahriari, does not appear in any U.N. resolutions and was involved in a major project with Iran's nuclear agency, said the agency's chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, although he did not give specifics.

Asked about the Iranian accusations, Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Israel did not comment on such matters.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, speaking to reporters in Washington, said: "We decry acts of terrorism, wherever they occur. And beyond that, we do not have any information on what happened."

There was no clear indication of the direction of the Iranian investigation into the attacks, and there was no immediate claims of responsibility.

Monday's attacks bore close similarities to one in January that killed Tehran University physics professor Masoud Ali Mohammadi. He died when a bomb-rigged motorcycle exploded near his car as he was about to leave for work.


Associated Press writers Dan Perry in Jerusalem, Matt Lee in Washington and Sarah El Deeb in Cairo contributed to this report.