Bush warns Arabs of Iran threat

US President George W.

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Bush has warned Gulf Arab allies of the threat from Iran and called for their support of Washington's goals in the Middle East.

In the keynote speech of a week-long Middle East tour, delivered in Abu Dhabi, Mr Bush also reached out to the Iranian people, saying they had a right to live under a government “that listens to your wishes”.

Mr Bush hit out at the Tehran regime across the Gulf saying that it was “today the world's leading state sponsor of terror” and, with Al-Qaeda, the main threat to the region's stability.

The Islamic republic “seeks to intimidate its neighbours with missiles and bellicose rhetoric,” the US president said. “Iran's actions threaten the security of nations everywhere.

“So the United States is strengthening our longstanding security commitments with our friends in the Gulf — and rallying friends around the world to confront this danger before it is too late.”

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is Iran's main trading partner with up to 10,000 Iranian firms operating in its commercial hub of Dubai and Mr Bush's intention to use the platform to speak out against the Tehran regime had been well trailed.

“To the people of Iran, you're rich in culture and talent. You have the right to live under a government that listens to your wishes, respects your talents and allows you to build better lives for your families,” he said.

“Unfortunately your government denies you these opportunities and threatens the peace and stability of your neighbours.

“So we call on the regime in Tehran to heed your will, and to make itself accountable to you.”

The Middle East tour which Mr Bush began in Israel last Wednesday has been overshadowed by renewed tensions with Tehran following a face-off between Iranian and US naval vessels in the entrance to the Gulf earlier this month.

Rising tension

Washington has since repeatedly warned Tehran that its commanders are authorised to use force in self-defence if necessary and President Bush has stepped up his rhetoric against the Iranian regime.

But in an embarrassing climbdown that was gleefully seized on by Tehran, the Pentagon admitted that a sound recording it had released of a voice threatening to blow up the US vessels may not have emanated from the Iranian vessels.

Tehran accused Washington on Sunday of distorting the incident “to fool the region” during Bush's visit and called on US officials to apologise.

Middle East peace efforts

President Bush also used his speech in Abu Dhabi to urge Israelis and Palestinians to have faith in the renewed peace negotiations launched in Annapolis outside Washington in November and to shun the alternative of armed struggle and war.

“To the Palestinian people, the dignity and sovereignty that is your right is within your reach,” said Bush, who after a first visit to the Holy Land as president last week, said he is “very hopeful” a final peace deal can be reached before he leaves office in January.

Turning to the oil-rich Gulf states, which have shown little enthusiasm for Washington's tough stand against Tehran, he appealed for their support of US goals, including in Lebanon and Iraq.

“We urge you to join us in committing the resources to help the

Palestinians build the institutions of a free society, help the citizens of Lebanon preserve their government and their sovereignty in the face of outside pressure from their neighbours, show the Iraqis that you support them in their effort to build a more hopeful nation.”

Mr Bush renewed his call for reform in the Middle East pointing to the example of Japan after World War II where he said a thriving democracy had been built without affecting indigenous culture or religion, despite the strong opposition of supporters of an absolute emperor.

He listed a string of Arab countries which had held elections in recent years.

Even in the UAE, indirect elections to an advisory federal council, which are the only polls to have been held so far, were the “first step in a wider reform,” he said.

In Egypt, where Mr Bush is due on Wednesday at the end of his week-long Gulf tour after a visit to Saudi Arabia, the US president was branded a murderer not welcome in the country by the main opposition party.

“We say to Bush Junior — whose hands are not just bloodstained but soaked in our blood — that neither you nor your American administration assistants are welcome in our land or under our skies,” the Muslim Brotherhood said.