Mon, Dec 11, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Iran sends blunt message to US on Iraq withdrawal

AP , MANAMA

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki addresses delegates at a regional security conference in Manama, Bahrain, on Saturday.

PHOTO: AP

Iran's foreign minister delivered a blunt challenge to the US on Saturday, saying Tehran is willing to help US troops withdraw from neighboring Iraq but only if Washington makes some tough policy changes.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki claimed US troops were responsible for at least half the violence tearing apart Iraq and that their departure would pay security dividends for the entire region.

"If the US changes its attitude the Islamic Republic of Iran is ready to help with the withdrawal from Iraq," Mottaki told an International Institute of Strategic Studies conference. "Fifty percent of the problem of insecurity in Iraq is the presence of foreign troops."

Mottaki echoed calls made last week by Iran's top national security official, Ali Larijani, for Gulf Arab countries to eject US bases in their countries and establish a regional security pact with Iran. Mottaki went further and offered deeper cooperation with the six Gulf Arab states on energy, tourism, business and counter-narcotics.

Iran's offers do not seem to have tempted neighbors worried about the dangers of living near Iran's nuclear facilities, especially amid threats by Washington and Israel to use military force to destroy them.

Mottaki's forceful speech was a blunt challenge to US interests in the Persian Gulf, and a strong display of the country's rising assertiveness in the face of US failures in the region.

At one point, Mottaki addressed an audience that included US Vice Admiral David Nichols, the deputy chief of US Central Command, a member of the US delegation, and said the regional chaos sparked by the US President George W. Bush's twin wars demonstrated that US military force was no longer a real-istic policy option in the Middle East.

"Today the time of threats is over. The period of unilateralism is over," Mottaki said. "Look at Iraq. Look at Afghanistan. That gives us a very important lesson."

Iran's proposal for a Gulf security alliance shows no sign of gaining traction among the region's Arab leaders. Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed al Khalifa said security of the oil-rich region depends on the US, the EU and other major oil-importing countries.

Much of the discussion at the security conference centered on the US Iraq Study Group report, and its recommendation that Washington seek Iran's help in steering Iraq away from civil war.

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