The policy of the United States toward Iran and Iraq is conditioned by the concerns of the countries in the Gulf and the Middle East, and not a result of its own interests, US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said in Dubai on January 23.
Delivering a policy statement at the Gulf Research Center (GRC), Burns said Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine-Israel conflict and Iran are the four major challenges in the region that require quick solutions for peace and stability to prevail.
Identifying Iran as the key concern of not just the United States, but of the 192-member United Nations, the American diplomat said that there was no scope for “rapprochement” with Iran until it halts its uranium enrichment program.
However, Burns sought to allay fears that military action was inevitable in the backdrop of the recent US military build-up in the region.
“We are clearly seeking a diplomatic situation,” he said, adding “but Iran is miscalculating the scenario. The US has always had the stability of this strategic region in mind and Iran has been trying to alter it by attempting to dominate. The US will not let that happen. We don’t want Iran to dominate the region. When challenged, we respond – economically, financially, politically, and not necessarily just through military means.”
The visit of the third highest-ranking official in the State Department comes amid a flourish of US diplomatic activity led by Secretary Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to explain the rationale behind Washington’s policies in the Middle East.
Defending the US policy on Iraq, Burns said that the Iraqi leadership dominated by Shiites and the Sunni governments of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries are in favor of continued US presence in the war-torn country.
“The challenges of walking away are more grim than the challenges of staying in Iraq, and we choose to stay. We have a responsibility and we’ll stay to overcome the obstacles,” he said urging Iran and Syria to be “agents of unity and not division.”
On Iran too, “people in the Arab world fear Iran’s military might, and that is the message that has been conveyed to the US,” Burns asserted while identifying the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad government with seeking nuclear weapons, funding terrorism in the region, as well as flexing muscles and projecting itself as a regional power.
On the issue of an Iran office in the US consulate in Dubai, the under secretary said that it encourages “people-to-people” contact among Iranians and Americans by facilitating student exchange programs, arranging training for nurses and doctors, as well as issuing of visas for Iranians wanting to visit the US. “With our consulate being physically and geographically close to Iran, the Iran office helps issue visas, provide links and understand Iran,” he added.
Reacting to a question on the recent initiative to launch a nuclear energy program for civilian use by the GCC countries and other Arab countries, Burns cited Washington’s historic deal with India to share civilian nuclear technology and said that Washington encourages nuclear power plants because of the concerns of global warming and energy crisis.
Referring to the other raging hotspots in the Middle East – Lebanon – the US official said there was no immediate threat to the Fouad Siniora government. “Only two governments don’t support the present government – Iran and Syria. The US will soon announce a financial contribution to rebuild the country,” to shore up the government’s bid to counter the opposition, he said.
On the decades-long Palestine-Israel conflict, Burns said “security of Israel and an independent Palestinian state is our objective,” and “making this possible” is in the interest of all and hence a key concern for the current US administration. He added that Israel’s existence is a reality and it is a key partner of the US, which “we want the Arabs to accept” as well.