Conflicting Gulf messages to resolve atomic crisis

ABU DHABI (AP) — Gulf officials sent conflicting messages about a new diplomatic initiative by Arab countries of the region to help resolve the dispute over Iran’s controversial nuclear programme.

Iran was at the top of the agenda in a flurry of meetings held separately Monday between Gulf foreign ministry officials and their Russian and German counterparts. Speaking to reporters in Abu Dhabi late Monday, Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Ben Zayed Al Nahyan said the Gulf Cooperation Council, a group of the region’s Arab countries, planned to send a “significant” delegation to Tehran to relay concerns over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme. “We appointed a significant Omani delegation … to relay to Iran the extent of our concerns (regarding their nuclear programme). There are worries, no doubt,” Abdullah said after meeting briefly with visiting German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

He did not provide any further details on when the delegation would travel to Tehran. But at an earlier news conference in the Omani capital of Muscat, Omani Foreign Minister Youssef Al Alawi denied reports that he would represent the GCC in Tehran, and said there were no plans to send a delegation to Iran anytime soon. “I personally am planning no direct contact with Tehran.

Those are just ideas,” Al Alawi said at a news conference after a meeting with Steinmeier.

“A Tehran visit on behalf of the GCC is not on the agenda,” he added.

There was no immediate explanation for the conflicting statements.

Steinmeier, on a regional tour that has so far taken him to Oman, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, hopes to enlist Gulf support in encouraging Iran to reach a compromise on its hotly disputed nuclear programme.

The five UN Security Council nations, plus Germany, are working on a draft proposal that would offer Iran an end to council pressure and offer economic incentives if Tehran agrees to suspend uranium enrichment. But if Iran refuses, it would face sanctions backed by the threat of force.

Steinmeier told reporters in Abu Dhabi Monday that the international community “cannot exclude” the possibility that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, even though UN inspectors have not found much evidence to support the claim.

Steinmeier also said Gulf officials from the three countries he has so far visited “are in complete agreement.” In Saudi Arabia Monday, the GCC secretary general met the Russian foreign minister to explore diplomatic solutions to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, one day after the Saudi and Russian foreign ministers rejected the idea of imposing sanctions on Iran.

Abdul Rahman Al Attiyah reiterated a GCC call to spare no effort to clear the region of any weapons of mass destruction, and nuclear weapons in particular.

Late Sunday, Prince Saud Al Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s longtime foreign minister, held a news conference with his Russian counterpart in which both officials rejected imposing any sanctions on Iran.

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