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US consults Gulf states on Iran 'threats'

Written by: Staff

WASHINGTON, Apr 7 (Reuters) A senior US official is visiting Gulf states to press for tighter controls to stop any transshipment of nuclear-related equipment to Iran and other security cooperation, administration officials said today.

Undersecretary of State Robert Joseph, who oversees non-proliferation issues, left for the Gulf last night and was in the United Arab Emirate today. He was also making stops in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar before returning to Washington the end of next week.

Joseph's trip was planned before Iran held naval exercises and tested new missiles and other military hardware in recent days but those developments were expected to be part of the discussions, officials told Reuters.

''The fact that the Iranians are testing these weapons and conducting these large-scale exercises is not an accident. ...

They are working hard to put in place those capabilities that would deny us access to the Straits of Hormuz,'' a key oil shipping route, said a U.S. official who spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

''Iran represents a strategic threat to us and the Gulf states play a critical role in our strategy,'' he added.

Although Iran can draw on huge manpower, experts generally dismiss its naval and air force technology as obsolete. A Pentagon spokesman on Monday told reporters Tehran had been known to ''exaggerate'' its technical and tactical capabilities.

The United States has accused Iran of developing nuclear weapons and being a state sponsor of terrorism. Iran's new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad heightened international concerns by calling for Israel to be wiped out and using other muscular anti-western rhetoric.

A second US official, who was also not authorized to speak on the record, called the Iran government ''an aggressive expansionist regime that is developing a nuclear weapons system and has demonstrated intentions which are deeply unsettling.'' Iran, which views itself as a regional power, insists its nuclear program is aimed at producing energy not weapons, The UAE is a major regional transshipment point and US officials say they are working with the government on an array of efforts to ensure nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction-related components do not transit the port there.

Initiatives include strengthening export controls, monitoring materiel coming and going and improving the capacity for interdiction, US officials say.

US officials said Gulf states concerns about Iran go beyond the nuclear issue, and so Joseph's discussions are expected to include more general security issues as well.

MORE STEPS TO PRESSURE IRAN? As Iran continues to resist UN Security Council demands that it halt sensitive nuclear activities, the United States and its allies have intensified discussions on follow-on steps that could increase pressures on Tehran.

US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said yesterday the UN Security Council could give Iran only two chances to curb its nuclear programs before imposing sanctions, although he acknowledged winning support for that strategy would be difficult.

The Bush administration has said it wants a diplomatic solution to the problem but has left open a military option.

But officials are considering expanding efforts against Iran, including using financial tools used to isolate North Korea financially. US officials acknowledged Iran was less vulnerable to such pressure because it is a larger country with more financial assets.

Reuters OM VP0243

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