Saudi minister sees risk of Iran-West confrontation

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NEW YORK, Sep 26 (Reuters) Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said today he saw a ''confrontation in the making'' between Iran and the West over Tehran's nuclear program and called for a diplomatic solution.

Prince Saud al-Faisal also condemned what he called ''dangerous talk'' by Iran of filling a void in neighboring Iraq left by any US withdrawal and said there was a risk of Iraq being torn apart, which would cause conflict across the region.

''Definitely what we are seeing is a confrontation in the making,'' Saud told a group of journalists when asked about the standoff over Iran's nuclear plans, which Tehran says are for power generation but the West fears aim to make weapons.

He said he was concerned by ''the rhetoric from all sides'' and mentioned comments at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who in a warning against appeasement said ''weakness and renunciation ... lead to war.'' ''The Iranian rhetoric also reflects this precipitousness towards confrontation, that 'we can take care of ourselves' and language like that,'' Saud said. ''It is a tense and dangerous situation in a volatile area.'' The United States and its allies are trying to stop Iran's drive to enrich uranium into nuclear fuel. Washington has said it wants to resolve the issue diplomatically through ratcheting up of sanctions by the UN Security Council.

SATISFY IAEA But Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the General Assembly yesterday the issue of his country's nuclear ambitions was ''closed'' and a matter solely between Tehran and the UN International Atomic Energy Agency watchdog, or IAEA.

Iran has reached a deal with the IAEA on explaining its past nuclear activities but has so far refused to grant the agency wider inspections aimed at verifying there is no undeclared nuclear activity at undeclared sites.

Saud said his country had asked Iran why it appeared to be heading for confrontation and told Tehran that it needed to satisfy IAEA demands.

''We are very anxious about this prospect of confrontation.

We hope that if anything this will be settled through negotiation,'' he said.

The Saudi minister also condemned Iranian involvement in Iraq, where the rise to power of the Shi'ite Muslim majority since the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, in 2003 has strengthened the hand of predominantly Shi'ite Iran.

''I think the Iranians know the position of all the Arab countries about their involvement in Iraq or in Lebanon, that is not something that is appreciated in the Arab world and the Arab countries are going to protect their interests,'' he said.

The Iranians had joined a commitment by Iraq's neighbors not to intervene there, he said.

''But even they admit now that they are intervening in Iraq, and we heard the words of President Ahmadinejad that if there is a void, if America leaves Iraq, they are willing to fill the void,'' Saud said.

''Such talk is very dangerous and I think it's an unwise statement to make,'' he said of Ahmadinejad's August 28 comment.

Reuters KK VP0325

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