AFP: Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have signalled a willingness to press China to support tough new sanctions on Iran, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday. By Dan De Luce
ABU DHABI (AFP) — Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have signalled a willingness to press China to support tough new sanctions on Iran, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday.
Gates and other top officials have appealed to the Saudis and to UAE leaders to use their economic leverage to persuade China to lift its opposition to slapping sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme.
"I have the sense that there's a willingness to do that," Gates told reporters in Abu Dhabi.
The two oil-rich states were also open to lobbying Moscow on the issue "although there's less need with respect to Russia," he said, as it was more supportive of sanctions.
The focus was "mainly China," he added.
His comments suggested the United States could be making headway in its push to secure international support for harsh financial sanctions designed to force Iran to give up its uranium enrichment work.
In meetings in Riyadh on Wednesday and Abu Dhabi on Thursday, Gates said the talks addressed "how we bring pressure on the Iranian government to change its policies."
Asked if the Saudis backed Washington's approach, Gates said: "I think there is an understanding that we have to try this. This is the next step."
US attempts to open a conciliatory dialogue with Tehran had "exposed" the nature of the Iranian government and helped promote broad international backing for sanctions, he said.
But US efforts to rally Gulf allies against Iran drew an angry response from the country's hardline president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who accused "corrupt" powers of destabilising the Gulf.
"What are you doing in our region?" Ahmadinejad asked in a speech in the Gulf port of Bandar Abbas.
"Why have you sent your armies to our area? If you think you can control the oil of Iraq and the Persian Gulf, you are mistaken."
The Iranian president has traded barbs with Gates this week, as Ahmadinejad's visit to Afghanistan overlapped with the defence secretary's trip there.
In the latest in a series of high level visits to the region by President Barack Obama's deputies, Gates met Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, deputy commander in chief of the armed forces in the United Arab Emirates, after talks with the Saudi king on Wednesday.
The Americans have asked the Saudis and Abu Dhabi leaders to reassure Beijing that they would be prepared to offset any shortfall in Iranian crude shipments.
China's expanding economy is heavily dependent on oil imports, with Iran's supplies considered vital.
Gates said the United States wanted to see financial sanctions targeted against Tehran's Revolutionary Guard and not the country's population.
Sceptics have questioned whether yet more sanctions will prove effective in light of Iran's defiant stance. But Gates said sanctions could succeed in Iran's case because he said there is wide international support and a clear aim in mind.
"I think the prospects of success are certainly better than in a lot of other situations where sanctions have been applied" on other countries, he said.
The Pentagon chief said his talks also addressed US arms sales designed to bolster air and missile defences in the region in the face of Iran's arsenal of ballistic missiles, a serious concern for Abu Dhabi.
In both capitals, Gates said also that there was shared concern over the threat posed by Al-Qaeda's branch in Yemen, and the need to support the Yemeni government in its efforts to crack down on the network.