Iran General NewsBush takes soundings on Iran

Bush takes soundings on Iran

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The Guardian: President George Bush yesterday began canvassing Arab support for containing Iran as his Middle East tour moved to the Gulf amid concerns about escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran. The Guardian

Ian Black and Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem

President George Bush yesterday began canvassing Arab support for containing Iran as his Middle East tour moved to the Gulf amid concerns about escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran.

En route from Tel Aviv to Kuwait after three days in Israel and the Palestinian territories, Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, dismissed hopes for any sudden breakthroughs towards an agreement – despite the president’s insistence that a treaty could be signed before he leaves office. “There isn’t going to be a blinding flash in any of this, not on this trip, not on the next trip,” Rice said. “But this is a process that is moving forward.”

Bush went into talks with the Emir, Sheikh Sabah al Ahmed al Sabah, as well as holding a discussion with Kuwaiti women in the most liberal of the Gulf states. The US is popular there because of its role in the liberation from Iraqi occupation in 1991.

He was also scheduled to address US troops and meet General David Petraeus, commander of US forces in Iraq.

Worries about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and backing for radical groups in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine are expected to be the main theme of talks in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

US officials acknowledge that Arab-Iranian relations have thawed and that the sense of crisis was defused by the recent US intelligence estimate stating that Tehran ceased developing nuclear weapons in 2003 – though last weekend’s naval clash in the Straits of Hormuz was a reminder of the potential for trouble.

In Kuwait, the al-Rai newspaper greeted Bush with a front page editorial headlined: “Mr President, the region needs smart initiatives, not smart bombs.” Al-Khaleej, a UAE daily, accused him of “striving to transform the Arab-Israeli conflict into an Arab-Iranian conflict, since nuclear Israel, which is armed to the teeth with weapons of mass destruction, which is aggressive, expansionist, racist and an international outlaw, does not threaten world peace”.

Before leaving Jerusalem the president toured the official Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem. He wore a yarmulke as he placed a wreath at the memorial and lit a torch to the victims of the Nazi genocide.

“I wish as many people as possible would come to this place,” he said. “It is a sobering reminder that evil exists and a call that when we find evil we must resist it.” He signed the visitors’ book and wrote “God Bless Israel”. Later, he was flown by helicopter to northern Israel where he visited Capernaum, overlooking the Sea of Galilee, and the Mount of Beatitudes.

Though Bush called for an end to the Israeli occupation, he did not secure any concrete changes. Mark Regev, a spokesman for prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said Israel hoped for an agreement this year that would “outline the framework” of a future Palestinian state. But Israel wants implementation delayed until the Palestinians dismantle militant groups, including Hamas, which won elections two years ago and controls the Gaza Strip.

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