U.S. begins Mideast push for ideas on Iranian solution

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 14, 2010 

CAIRO, Egypt — The top U.S. military officer and the secretary of state kicked off a series of visits throughout the Middle East Sunday, reaching out to the Arab world as the Obama administration pushes for tougher sanctions against Iran and its nuclear ambitions.

The missions by top military and diplomatic officials to at least eight nations of the Middle East reflect the latest efforts to find a solution to the Iranian nuclear problem, which has the prospect to destabilize the volatile region with a nuclear arms race among archenemies.

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met Sunday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and later in Tel Aviv with top Israeli military officers. Iran was a "principle topic" of discussion in Egypt, Mullen said afterwards in an interview with McClatchy Newspapers in Cairo. He added that he expects Iran will be the focus of his talks with officials in Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also is set to hold meetings in Qatar and Saudi Arabia during her three-day visit to the region. Aides traveling with her have said Iran will lead the agenda. Top State Department deputies will travel in the days ahead to Israel, Jordan, Syria and Egypt.

In a speech Sunday a the US-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar, Clinton warned that the evidence was "accumulating" that Iran was pursing nuclear weapons. She also said the ongoing diplomatic press was designed to "figure out a way" to handle Iran's nuclear ambitions peaceably.

As Mullen arrived in Israel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set out on a three-day visit to Moscow later Sunday. Netanyahu said he was seeking Moscow's support for "crippling sanctions" against Iran.

"I have seen Iran as an incredibly destabilizing country for a considerable amount of time," Mullen said in a press conference in Tel Aviv. "I am still hopeful that diplomacy and sanctions and dialogue will achieve a solution that doesn't result in an outbreak of war and doesn't result in an outcome where Iran achieves nuclear capability."

In his interview with McClatchy, Mullen said: "It's going to take the engagement of a lot of leaders to make sure that doesn't happen."

The U.S. is seeking a fourth round of U.N.-sponsored sanctions against Iran. Russia has indicated greater support for sanctions in recent months, but China says its remains opposed. Even if China eventually agrees, it could delay action at the U.N. Security Council and water down any sanctions that are passed. U.S. officials are seeking assurances from countries like Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates to offset lost Iranian oil that is now sold to China if sanctions restrict Iranian oil exports.

Last week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his country had enriched uranium to near nuclear weapon strength. But he noted that Iran does not intend to build a bomb and that enrichment was for peaceful energy purposes, including fueling a medical research reactor.

Western experts, however, doubt on Iran's enrichment claim. At the same time, Iran has rejected a Western offer to fabricate the nuclear reactor fuel for Iran's use.

At a press conference in Cairo, Mullen said Washington had no plans for a military attack against Iran.

Mullen stressed that his trip to the region had been arranged before Iranian officials disclosed that Iran had begun enriching uranium to a higher level of purity.

His talks have not focused exclusively Iran, Mullen said. The Egyptians expressed concerns about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the stalled Middle East peace process.

The largely Sunni Arab world is concerned about a Shiite-majority Iran armed with nuclear capabilities. While privately Arab leaders have supported tougher action against Iran, publicly they have resisted encouraging sanctions against another Muslim nation.

In a video speech for the Arab Forum on Saturday, President Barack Obama urged efforts between the U.S. and the Muslim communities "to build a world that is more peaceful and secure" without the "misunderstanding and mistrust" of the past.

(Warren P. Strobel also contributed to this article.)

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McClatchy Newspapers 2010

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