To Contain Iran, U.S. Seeks Help From Arab Allies

To Contain Iran, U.S. Seeks Help From Arab Allies
November 24th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: To Contain Iran, U.S. Seeks Help From Arab Allies

To Contain Iran, U.S. Seeks Help From Arab Allies
Wall Street Journal
November 24, 2006

By Jay Solomon
WASHINGTON -- As violence escalates in the Middle East, top U.S. officials are reaching out to traditional Sunni Arab allies in a bid to stabilize the region and build a coalition to contain Iran's Shiite regime.
Over the next week, President Bush is scheduled to visit Jordan, where he will meet with King Abdullah II and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Vice President Cheney is flying to Saudi Arabia, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is set to huddle by the Dead Sea with the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, among others. Issues on the U.S. agenda are expected to include how to bring order to Iraq and how to check Iran's nuclear program.
The visits highlight the administration's longer-term strategy to build a broad alliance of Sunni Muslim states to offset Tehran's growing regional ambitions. Since the spring, the U.S. has sought to increase cooperation between traditional Arab allies like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, including developing joint maritime patrols and a regional missile-defense shield for these countries.
In order to build such an alliance, however, the administration could be forced to shift its Middle East strategy in significant ways. Arab diplomats from ally countries are pushing Washington to be much more assertive in promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. They are also expected to advise the White House to scale back efforts to promote democracy in the region, arguing that they could lead to more extremism.
The flurry of diplomacy and Washington's outreach to long-standing Arab allies underscore the Bush administration's growing concern over Iran's influence. Iran announced yesterday it was proceeding with a plan to build nuclear reactors. But in seeking to contain Iran, many Middle East analysts warn, Washington could find itself in the middle of the long and bitter split between Sunnis and Shiites.
"The whole rhetoric of containing Iran could spark competing extremism" between anti-Iranian Sunnis and pro-Iranian Shiites, says Vali Nasr, a Middle East expert at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. "Washington doesn't want to be seen as actively encouraging this."
In Baghdad yesterday, coordinated suicide car bombings and mortar attacks on the Shiite slum of Sadr City left at least 160 dead and hundreds more injured. Immediate reprisals against Sunni neighborhoods and against a revered Sunni shrine raised fears that the country was slipping further into civil war. (See related article.)
Regional leaders worry that bloodshed could spread to Lebanon, where political tensions have been rising in recent weeks. (See related article). Thousands of Lebanese took to Beirut's streets yesterday to protest Tuesday's assassination of Pierre Gemayel, a Christian cabinet minister who had sought to counter the political influence of Syria and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia. Many in the crowd blamed Syria for the slaying, a charge Damascus denies, and accused Hezbollah of trying to topple Lebanon's democratically elected government.
Growing Power
The roles played by Iran and Syria in Hezbollah's rise are regarded as evidence of growing Shiite power across the Middle East. While Syria's population is majority Sunni, its ruling Assad family is from a Shiite sect. Many Arab leaders fear a powerful Shiite axis taking shape between Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.
Many Lebanese leaders have expressed concern recently that their country also could descend into civil war. Some contend that Mr. Gemayel's slaying is part of an effort by pro-Syrian forces to head off a United Nations investigation into the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The initial U.N. investigation implicated senior Syrian officials, an allegation that Syria denies. This week, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution establishing a tribunal to oversee the trial of anyone charged in that case. The Lebanese government has to consent to any trial.
How Mr. Bush responds to pressure on the U.S. to get more involved in ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could affect Washington's relations with its Arab allies in the region, as well as relations between Sunnis and Shiites. Arab diplomats say countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates will find it difficult to publicly stand with the U.S. on Iran and on broad regional stability unless Washington pressures Israel on a peace initiative.
"The road to Baghdad runs through Jerusalem, and not the other way around," says one senior Arab diplomat in Washington.
There are signs that the White House may be coming around to this view. Philip Zelikow, a top policy adviser to Ms. Rice, said in a September speech that an "active policy on the Arab-Israeli dispute is an essential ingredient to forging a coalition that deals with the most dangerous problems" in the Middle East. A few days later, Mr. Bush told the U.N. General Assembly that he had asked Ms. Rice to lead a diplomatic effort to engage moderate leaders across the region to help Israelis and Palestinians resolve their differences.
Previously, neoconservatives in the Bush administration had argued that peace in Israel could only be achieved through the removal of dictatorial regimes such as Saddam Hussein's, which funded militant groups targeting the Jewish state. Many Arab allies of the U.S. oppose that approach.
Arab officials are expected to push the Israel issue during their upcoming U.S. visits. President Bush and his top lieutenants hope to use the discussions to continue efforts to bring together Sunni Arab states to offset the growing regional clout of Tehran's Shiite theocracy. Sunni leaders in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries worry that Iran's rising influence could stir up their own Shiite minorities or other groups hostile to the U.S. and its allies.
Islam's split into Sunni and Shiite sects dates back to differences over who should succeed the prophet Muhammad after his death in 632. Sunni-based royalty and political parties have held power in most of the Islamic world since then, relegating Shiites to the political and economic minority. Iran's 1979 revolution brought to power a Shiite theocracy that rekindled regional Shiite political activism. Iran's influence increased when a Shiite-led government took over in Iraq after the 2003 ouster of Mr. Hussein, and through Iran's support of militant groups fighting Israel, including Hamas and Hezbollah.
Many Arab and U.S. officials were alarmed this summer by Hezbollah's military strength in its fight against Israel. Tehran has supported the group for decades with funds and arms. Hezbollah's main goal has been fighting Israel, which invaded Southern Lebanon in 1982 and occupied it until 2000. But Iran has also viewed the group as a deterrent to the U.S. and Israel. Today, Hezbollah, with its extensive social and political networks and military capability, behaves in many ways like a state within Lebanon.
Leaders of Sunni Arab states warn that wars in Iraq and Lebanon risk upsetting the regional balance between Sunnis and Shiites. They have also voiced concern that their nations could be dragged into the fighting on behalf of militias or terrorist groups that share their religion. Civil war in Iraq could force Saudis to fight "shoulder to shoulder with al Qaeda," said Jamal Kashoggi, an adviser to Saudi Arabia's Prince Turki al-Faisal, at a conference on the Middle East last week in Washington.
U.S. leaders will be traveling into the heart of the Sunni world. Mr. Cheney is set to arrive today in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia's capital, where he will discuss Middle East developments with King Abdullah. In a visit hosted by King Abdullah II of Jordan starting Nov. 29, Mr. Bush is scheduled to hold two days of meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to discuss ways to stabilize Iraq.
On Nov. 30, Ms. Rice will kick off meetings with foreign ministers from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council members, along with Jordan and Egypt. They are expected to discuss how to deter Iran from meddling in the politics of neighbor countries and from developing a nuclear arsenal, say officials involved in setting up the meetings. Arab leaders are likely to bring up the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
The visits come amid U.S. efforts to build a Sunni-based regional alliance. U.S. naval fleets have engaged in training exercises with several Persian Gulf countries. Last month, the U.S. conducted war games with Bahrain, Qatar, the U.A.E. and about two dozen other countries about 20 miles outside of Iran's territorial waters. The exercises were part of the Bush administration's Proliferation Security Initiative, which seeks to stanch weapons trafficking.
State Department officials such as John Hillen, assistant secretary for political-military affairs, have in recent months visited the six Arab countries that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council, or GCC, as well as Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan, to work on revamping the region's security framework. Saudi Arabia formed the GCC in 1981 to coordinate economic and security issues among Persian Gulf states. Other members include Oman, Qatar and the U.A.E.
Mr. Hillen is pushing a plan to better integrate the U.S. into the GCC's security architecture. The plan calls for helping GCC member nations to develop regional maritime-security and missile-defense initiatives, to share intelligence, and to improve air defenses. The Bush administration wants to incorporate all GCC countries into its antiproliferation program.
Mr. Hillen maintains that the initiatives shouldn't be viewed as anti-Shiite. "In fact, the vast, vast preponderance of U.S. efforts in the region are oriented on making sure a majority Shiite government led by a Shiite prime minister succeeds" in Iraq, he says.

Similar Topics
Iraq Pullout Talk Makes Iran Uneasy
Analysis: U.S. Says Iran Behind Trouble
De-Arabization of Iran
What If Iran Gets the Bomb? Good Analysis
Shaking hands with Sadam Hussein