Leaders of oil-rich Arabian peninsula monarchies who are publicly reluctant to criticize Iran have been beseeching the United States in private to attack the Islamic Republic and destroy its nuclear facilities, according to classified diplomatic cables released by the WikiLeaks website.
WASHINGTON — Leaders of oil-rich Arabian peninsula monarchies who are publicly reluctant to criticize Iran have been beseeching the United States in private to attack the Islamic Republic and destroy its nuclear facilities, according to classified diplomatic cables released by the WikiLeaks website.
The cables show both Saudi King Abdullah and King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa of Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. 5th Fleet, are among Arab leaders who have lobbied the United States to strike Iran. According to one dispatch, a Saudi official reminded Americans that the king had asked the United States repeatedly to “cut off the head of the snake” before it was too late.
The cables were among more than 250,000 American diplomatic dispatches provided by WikiLeaks to five U.S. and European news outlets, which began reporting their contents Sunday. The cables offer U.S. officials’ candid and sometimes unflattering analyses of foreign leaders and governments, which could strain relations with Arab and European states, Russia, China and other major players.
Among other disclosures, the cables reveal:
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• U.S. officials believe North Korea has provided Iran with missiles that could allow it to strike Europe and Western capitals.
• The United States has carried on an unsuccessful effort to remove from a Pakistani research reactor enriched uranium U.S. officials fear could fall into the hands of militants.
The White House denounced the disclosures as “dangerous and reckless,” warning they could jeopardize the safety of foreign officials and others who have helped the United States, and would make it more difficult to conduct routine diplomacy. WikiLeaks released the documents in advance to The Guardian of Britain; Der Spiegel of Germany; Le Monde in France; El Pais in Spain; and The New York Times.
U.S. officials have spent long hours in recent days notifying foreign governments that the cables would include sensitive material. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has personally called 11 capitals to try to soften the impact.
A statement from the White House on Sunday said: “We condemn in the strongest terms the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national-security information.”
While the trove of cables did not contain startling revelations about Iran, they show the Islamic Republic has been a preoccupation of the Obama administration and the Bush White House before it.
When President Obama took office, many allies feared his offers of engagement would make him appear weak to the Iranians. But the cables show how his aides quickly countered those worries by rolling out a plan to encircle Iran with economic sanctions and anti-missile defenses. The administration killed a Bush-era plan for a missile-defense site in Poland — which Russian leaders feared was directed at them, not Iran — and replaced it with one floating closer to Iran’s coast. The move seems to have paid off.
There is also a U.S.-inspired plan to persuade the Saudis to offer China a steady oil supply, to wean it from energy dependence on Iran. The Saudis agreed and insisted on ironclad commitments from China to join in sanctions against Iran.
To some extent, the Arab obsession with Iran has been rooted in the uneasy sectarian division of the Muslim world, between Shiites who rule Iran and Sunnis who dominate most of the region. Those strains had been drawn tauter with the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, which effectively transferred control of the government there from Sunni to Shiite leaders, many close to Iran.
In December 2005, the Saudi king expressed his anger that the Bush administration had ignored his advice against going to war. According to a cable from the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, the king argued “that whereas in the past the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Saddam Hussein had agreed on the need to contain Iran, U.S. policy had now given Iraq to Iran as a ‘gift on a golden platter.’ “
Regional distrust of Iran also had deepened with the election that year of a hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In a May 2005 meeting, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed, deputy supreme commander of the armed forces of the United Arab Emirates, urged a U.S. general to use “ground forces” to take out Iran’s nuclear program.
During a Dec. 27, 2005, meeting with the commander of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. John Abizaid, United Arab Emirates military readers “all agreed with Abizaid that Iran’s new President Ahmadinejad seemed unbalanced, crazy even,” one cable reports.
Months later, bin Zayed told Abizaid the United States needed to take action against Iran “this year or next.”
“I believe this guy is going to take us to war,” bin Zayed said of Ahmadinejad in April 2006. “It’s a matter of time. Personally, I cannot risk it with a guy like Ahmadinejad. He is young and aggressive.”
While Persian Gulf leaders recognize the options for dealing with Iran are limited, the dispatches indicate they repeatedly have urged U.S. military action, fearing that allowing Iran to build a nuclear bomb would shift the balance of power decisively in the region.
During an April 2008 visit to Saudi Arabia, Gen. David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, received an earful from the king and other officials about the need to confront Iran’s nuclear program and its ambitions in Iraq. And during an April 2009 meeting, Saudi Prince Turki al-Kabeer warned American, Russian and Dutch diplomats that Saudi Arabia could not stomach Iran’s continued enrichment of uranium. “We are OK with nuclear electrical power and desalinization, but not with enrichment,” he was quoted as saying.
At a June 2009 meeting with U.S. lawmakers, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak argued that attacking Iran any later than late 2010 “would result in unacceptable collateral damage.”
“That program must be stopped,” one Nov. 4, 2009, cable quotes Khalifa, the Bahrain king, as telling Petraeus, then head of U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for U.S. military activity in the Middle East. “The danger of letting it go is greater than the danger of stopping it.”
In December 2009, bin Zayed told a U.S. official, “We know your priority is al-Qaida, but don’t forget Iran. Al-Qaida is not going to get a nuclear bomb.”
Still, one Saudi diplomat urged Americans in 2008 to avoid war and launch talks. An Omani official urged Americans to take a more nuanced view of the Iranian issue and to question whether other Arab leaders’ entreaties for war were based on logic or emotion.
Several documents showed the extent to which the U.S. has been desperately attempting to obtain detailed information on Iran’s political scene and economy by interviewing sources at American diplomatic outposts in Dubai and Azerbaijan.
The United States has not had diplomatic relations with Iran for decades, and the documents show that Americans repeatedly have relied on European allies with embassies in Tehran to gain understanding of the Islamic Republic. According to one cable, former British envoy Geoffrey Adams advised Americans to be “steady and firm, tough but not aggressive” in late 2007 negotiations between Iranian and American officials over the security situation in Iraq.
“The current Iranian regime is effectively a fascist state, and the time has come to decide on next steps,” French diplomat Jean-David Levitte advised U.S. officials in September 2009.
The cables detail Iran’s alleged breaches of law and protocol under Ahmadinejad and his hard-line entourage. A source at the U.S. consulate in Dubai alleged that Iran used the Red Crescent Society to funnel weapons and militants into Iraq and Lebanon.
One cable quoted U.N. weapons inspectors as telling U.S. officials in Vienna that Iran refused to hand over original design plans for an enrichment facility near the city of Qom. During an inspection of the facility, the cable quotes U.N. officials as saying Iranian technicians were “steered by unseen observers” who dispatched notes during meetings and insisted on recording all conversations.
The cables are the third huge release of classified U.S. data by WikiLeaks. U.S. officials believe they were stolen by a disgruntled Army private, Bradley Manning, who had access to classified computer networks as a junior intelligence analyst in Iraq.