Doha, (Asharq Al Awsat and Agencies) – The GCC Supreme Council has welcomed suggestions from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad which he presented during an address at the opening of the 28th session of the Summit of the Arab Gulf Cooperation Council in the Qatari capital on Monday, in his first ever appearance at the summit.
The Supreme Council reiterated that its member states will review these suggestions in a way that enhance good neighbourly relations, mutual respect between the two sides and contribute to strengthening security and stability of the region.
Ahmadinejad’s attendance at the GCC summit in Doha was the first time an Iranian leader had been invited as a guest to the annual six-member gathering. The Iranian president used the opportunity to reach out to Gulf countries. “We call for peace and security without any foreign influence,” Ahmadinejad said in his opening speech, proposing the “establishment of economical and security pacts and institutions among the seven states” here to “serve the people of our region” and enable “peace and prosperity for all.”
In the summit’s opening speech, Qatar’s ruler Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani said the meeting was taking place amid “serious threats” to the region’s prosperity and security.
Ahmadinejad called for increasing cooperation in economic and security fields. He told the leaders of the Gulf States that any security problem in one country would spill over to neighboring states. “We welcome peace and complete security without outside influence,” he said during the speech.
Faced with stepped up international pressure over its controversial uranium enrichment program, Iran is eager to improve ties with the Gulf.
On Tuesday, Iran exulted at a U.S. intelligence report contradicting earlier Bush administration assertions it was building an atomic bomb, but President George W. Bush and his allies Britain and France urged continued international pressure on Tehran.
A sceptical Israel, meanwhile, questioned the findings of the report, which said Tehran had halted its nuclear weapons programme in 2003.
The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) report, pubished on Monday, took U.S. friends and foes by surprise after years of strident rhetoric from Washington accusing Tehran of pursuing a covert nuclear weapons programme.
Analysts said the report might undermine Washington’s drive to get other world powers to agree further U.N. sanctions against Iran, but Bush said it should serve as a rallying point for the international community to further pressure Iran. He told a news conference in Washington that Iran was still developing its nuclear technology and could restart a covert weapons program. “I believed before the NIE that Iran was dangerous and I believe after the NIE that Iran is dangerous,” he said.
Iran welcomed the intelligence report as a vindication of its long-standing claim that its nuclear programme had only peaceful civilian aims. “It’s natural that we welcome it when those countries who in the past have questions and ambiguities about this case … now amend their views realistically,” Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told state radio. “The condition of Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities is becoming clear to the world.”
Britain, whose position on Iran is close to Washington’s, said it would continue to urge more international pressure. “We think the report’s conclusions justify the actions already taken by the international community to both show the extent of and try to restrict Iran’s nuclear programme and to increase pressure on the regime to stop its (uranium) enrichment and reprocessing activities,” a spokesman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown said. “It confirms we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons (and) shows that the sanctions programme and international pressure were having an effect in that they seem to have abandoned the weaponisation element.”
France took a similar stand. “It appears that Iran is not respecting its international obligations,” a French foreign ministry spokeswoman said. “We must keep up the pressure on Iran … we will continue to work on the introduction of restrictive measures in the framework of the United Nations,” she said.
World powers met last Saturday in Paris to discuss a further round of sanctions against Iran over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for power plants or, potentially, nuclear weapons.
Two U.N. sanctions resolutions have been passed so far against Iran, unanimously but after diplomatic wrangling among the five permanent U.N. Security Council members — the United States, China, Russia, France and Britain — plus Germany.
China’s U.N. ambassador said the U.N. Security Council should consider the implications of the new U.S. report if it is asked to impose new sanctions.
Asked whether the NIE made the prospect of new U.N. sanctions less likely, Ambassador Guangya Wang told reporters: “I think the council members will have to consider that, because I think we all start from the presumption that now things have changed.”
Russia and China have typically opposed stronger sanctions on Iran, instead counseling negotiations to resolve the dispute over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
Close U.S. ally Israel was unimpressed by the new report, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called for the U.S.-backed campaign to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions to press ahead regardless. “It is vital to pursue efforts to prevent Iran from developing a capability like this and we will continue doing so along with our friends the United States,” he told reporters.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak told Army Radio that as far as Israel knew Iran had probably renewed its weapons programme since 2003.
In Vienna, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said the report should help ease the standoff and prompt Iran to cooperate fully with the agency. “This new assessment by the U.S. should help to defuse the current crisis,” IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei said in a statement. “At the same time, it should prompt Iran to work actively with the IAEA to clarify specific aspects of its past and present nuclear programme as outlined in the work plan and through the implementation of the additional protocol.”
A European security source familiar with intelligence on Iran said the change of American stance was welcome, and would undermine the position of U.S. hawks. “The American agencies have in essence come closer to the position of the European ones,” the source said. “I think a political process (in dealing with Tehran) is more of an option than what we’ve perhaps been seeing from the hawks in the United States, the positioning for a military attack on Iran and so on,” the official said.
Russia has been wary of harsh sanctions, arguing there is no evidence that Iran has sought to develop nuclear arms. Iran’s top nuclear negotiator was meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Tuesday.