Gulf could respond to Iran attack: Bahrain; Moscow warns


DUBAI (Agencies): Arab states in the Gulf have the capability to respond to any attack from neighbouring Iran, Bahrain’s defense minister said in an interview published on Sunday. “Gulf countries are able to defend themselves against Iran… we have the military strength and capability,” Khalifa bin Ahmad Al-Khalifa told the pan-Arab Al-Hayat newspaper. He added that any conflict between Western powers and Iran over its controversial nuclear programme would impact other states in the region, including Bahrain. Washington fears Iran is secretly developing an atomic weapon, a charge Iran strongly denies insisting its nuclear programme is for peaceful energy production only.

The island state of Bahrain is a key ally of the United States and is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet. Washington also has troops stationed in Kuwait. The minister said Bahrain, as well as other Arab states, would “respond with force to defend itself” if Iran blocked the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the event of a confrontation over its nuclear drive. The strait at the southeastern tip of the Gulf separates Oman from Iran. Almost all crude exports from oil-rich Gulf states go through the strait, making it the world’s most important oil passage.

Iran is a key Opec member and the world’s fourth-biggest oil producer. Russia’s security chief issued a veiled warning to Washington on Sunday not to use the Iranian nuclear issue to try to change Tehran’s political course. “We oppose this question being used as an instrument of pressure, being used to interfere in Iran’s internal affairs,” said Igor Ivanov, the head of Russia’s Security Council, Interfax news agency reported. At the same time Ivanov, who is Russia’s chief negotiator with Iran over its nuclear programme, called on Tehran to clarify unanswered questions about its uranium enrichment activities.

“For 18 years Iran conducted enrichment that was not under the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency. We insist that these questions be resolved,” Ivanov told the Council for International and Defence Policy, a club of Russian officials and foreign policy specialists. “If this issue is closed, then Iran will have the right to develop peaceful atomic programmes.” Israeli and visiting US forces are holding a biennial air-defence exercise this month but on a reduced scale, partly out of reluctance to stoke tensions with Iran, Israeli security sources said on Sunday.

They said the exercise, dubbed Juniper Cobra, this year involves fewer troops and advanced computer simulations — rather than live-fire drills — of anti-missile systems such as Israel’s Arrow-II and the American-made Patriot PAC-3.
“Given the regional situation, especially with Iran, and other factors, we have opted for a much lower profile than previously,” an Israeli security source said. The UN Security Council braces this week for a dramatic showdown with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over a vote on new sanctions to prod Tehran to comply with demands that it suspend uranium enrichment.

South African Ambassador Dumasani Kumalo, who chairs the 15-member Council this month, said Friday there had been no objection from members to a request by the mercurial Iranian leader to attend the session at which a new draft sanctions resolution is to be adopted. The full council was set to meet Wednesday afternoon to review the compromise text agreed Thursday by the council’s five permanent members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany.

A vote on the draft, which toughened sanctions already adopted by the council in December, was likely to follow a few days later, diplomats said. Friday the United States urged Ahmadinejad to change course and agree to freeze his country’s sensitive nuclear fuel program, which the West suspects hides a bid to acquire nuclear weapons. For Iranians across the political spectrum, delays in construction of the country’s first nuclear reactor have strengthened their resolve to master their own nuclear technology and resist UN efforts to stop them.

The reactor, already eight years behind schedule, is snagged on what Iran calls a politically motivated business dispute with longtime ally Russia. Russia announced this month that construction would be delayed at least two months because Iran had failed to make monthly payments since January. It said the delay could cause “irreversible” damage to the project. Because of the delay, Russia also indefinitely put off the delivery of enriched uranium fuel it had promised to provide Iran in March.

Iran, which denied falling behind in payments, was furious, convinced Russia was pressuring the country to bend to the UN Security Council, which has placed sanctions against it for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment. Iranian lawmakers are now pushing for the country to ensure it does not need to rely on anyone. “The pattern of Russia’s behavior has strengthened Iran’s determination to obtain the full technology to build nuclear power plants and end its dependence,” conservative lawmaker Kazem Jalali told the Associated Press on Saturday.

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