Iran General NewsU.S. delegation to visit Gulf to discuss defenses against...

U.S. delegation to visit Gulf to discuss defenses against Iran

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Bloomberg: The U.S. is sending a high-level delegation to the oil-rich Persian Gulf next week to discuss how the U.S. might better protect Arab allies from an Iranian missile attack. By Janine Zacharia

Oct. 13 (Bloomberg) — The U.S. is sending a high-level delegation to the oil-rich Persian Gulf next week to discuss how the U.S. might better protect Arab allies from an Iranian missile attack.

Assistant Secretary of State John Hillen, Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Rodman and other senior officials from the White House National Security Council, the departments of State and Defense, the U.S. Central Command and the Joint Chiefs of Staff leave Oct. 15 to visit Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, the State Department said yesterday.

U.S. officials say Arab states privately express mounting concern about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s aggressive rhetoric and actions. Iran’s support for Hezbollah in its war with Israel in July and August further rattled Arab leaders worried about maintaining stability in their own countries.

Among the measures to be discussed on the visit is the possible sale of U.S.-made defenses against land- and sea-based missile attacks as well as other hardware, a senior defense official said yesterday on condition of anonymity.

Among the systems Gulf states have expressed interest in is the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3), a newer version of the air-defense guided-missile system used during the 1991 Persian Gulf war, a senior State Department official said, also on condition of anonymity.

Nuclear Threat

Iran’s nuclear program is a major worry. The U.S. is pressing the United Nations Security Council to punish Iran for refusing to stop enriching uranium. Iran says the purpose of its program is to fuel power stations; the U.S. and other governments say the Islamic Republic is working to produce a nuclear weapon.

Iran has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East, director of National Intelligence John Negroponte testified in February.

Iran is working to adapt its Shahab-3 missile to carry a nuclear warhead, according to news reports. The missile has a range of 800 miles, allowing it to reach any country in the Gulf. Iran is also developing the newer Shahab-4, intended to have a range of 1200 miles.

Iran also has an array of conventional surface-to-air and ship-launched missiles with which to threaten its neighbors. With tensions high over its nuclear program, U.S. officials have expressed concern that Iran could use its capabilities to block the Strait of Hormuz, the waterway through which at least 35 percent of the world’s oil is shipped.

`Defense Cooperation’

The State Department, in its statement yesterday, said the purpose of next week’s visit “is to enhance regional security, non-proliferation and defense cooperation with some of our long- standing friends and allies in the Gulf.”

The defense official said Rodman and Hillen met in recent weeks in Washington with Saudi Arabia’s national security chief Bandar Bin Sultan, Kuwaiti Emir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, and Qatari officials to discuss possible security partnerships.

The primary objective in the current round of defense talks is to reassure Gulf allies that the U.S. will protect them, a commitment that might help deter an Iranian attack, the senior U.S. officials said.

A similar push is playing out with East Asian allies after North Korea announced Oct. 9 that it had conducted a nuclear test. As in the Middle East, the U.S. in Asia is trying to ward off a nuclear arms race by promising a U.S. security blanket.

“In response to North Korea’s provocation, we will increase defense cooperation with our allies, including cooperation on ballistic missile defense to protect against North Korean aggression,” President George W. Bush said at an Oct. 11 news conference.

Priority for Rice

Gulf security has been a high priority for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in recent weeks. She held two meetings in as many months with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, made up of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait.

Egypt and Jordan also joined the meetings, which took place Sept. 30 in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly and Oct. 3 in Cairo. In both meetings she briefed her Arab counterparts on diplomatic efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear activities.

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