SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt, (AP) – Senior U.S. and European officials met with several Arab leaders Sunday who are worried about the international community negotiating a deal with Iran that would give the Islamic Republic more power in the Middle East, said a U.S. official and a meeting participant.
The meeting comes less than a week after the victory of President-elect Obama, who has said he is more open to holding talks with Iran on the country’s controversial nuclear program.
The sentiment expressed in the meeting by the foreign ministers of Bahrain, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates indicates they are concerned about what Obama would be willing to offer Iran to strike a deal.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who attended the meeting along with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, assured the Arab foreign ministers that Washington would not offer Iran greater influence in exchange for nuclear concessions, said a meeting participant.
“The United States’ view is that Iran should not gain a privileged role in the region,” the meeting participant quoted Rice as saying during the discussions, which were held on the sidelines of a meeting on Israeli-Palestinian peace in the Egyptian Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheik.
The Arab foreign ministers were most concerned about Iranian influence in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and other areas of the Gulf, said the meeting participant, who spoke on condition of anonymity along with the U.S. official because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Rice’s assurances may mean little to Arab officials since she is not able to speak for the incoming administration. However, while Obama has signaled a greater willingness to talk to the Iranians, he has also said it is unacceptable for Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.
The U.S. and many of its allies have accused Iran of using its nuclear program as a cover for weapons development. Iran denies the charge, saying it is focused on building reactors to generate electricity.
Many Arab countries in the Middle East, which are predominantly Sunni Muslim, have also expressed concern about Shiite Iran’s intentions in the region.