U.S. Sees Gulf Support in Western Push for Iran Sanctions

On visit to Abu Dhabi, Gates says he believes Russia already on board and is lobbying now for China.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday that leading Gulf states appeared ready to use their clout to lobby China to support sanctions against Iran over its disputed nuclear program.

A day after meeting Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah in Riyadh, Gates traveled to the United Arab Emirates to discuss a Western push for new punitive measures against Iran with Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan.

Asked after the talks whether his hosts were ready to help the U.S. overcome Chinese and Russian doubts on sanctions, Gates said: "I have a sense that there is a willingness to do that. Although there is less need with respect to Russia, because I think Russia is pretty much already there. It's mainly China."

Tension between Iran and the West has risen as Washington steps up a drive to secure a fourth round of UN sanctions over Tehran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment.

As Gates toured the Gulf, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad condemned the U.S. presence in the region, warning that Washington was seeking to dominate the region's energy resources in the name of fighting terrorism.

"We warn the countries in the region over the presence of bullying powers ... they have not come here to restore security or to counter drug trafficking," Ahmadinejad said in a speech during a visit to the southern Iranian province of Hormuzgan.

In Geneva, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the UN Security Council was working to draft economic sanctions that would restrict Iranian banks abroad and insurance of shipments to and from Iran.

While he expressed confidence that world powers would reach an agreement, he signaled that China was still holding out.

China's foreign minister said on Sunday that new sanctions would not solve the stand-off with Iran over its nuclear work. Western powers fear the work will allow Iran to develop a bomb, but Iran says it is only interested in electricity.

Gates said Iran's rejection of President Barack Obama's attempts to engage with the Islamic Republic had helped boost international support for more punitive steps.

Asked what he was seeking from Gulf states, Gates said: "What I would like for them to do is because of the nature of their economic relationship is to say it's important to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that China be supportive of the UN Security Council resolution."

Iran is expanding the scale, reach and sophistication of its ballistic missiles and has said it will hit back at Israel and U.S. bases in the Gulf if it is attacked over its nuclear program.

The United States has also expanded land- and sea-based missile defense systems in and around the Gulf, according to U.S. officials.

The deployments include expanded land-based Patriot defensive missile installations in the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, as well as U.S. Navy ships with missile defence systems in and around the Mediterranean, the officials say.

Part of the U.S. effort also involves promoting integration of regional defences in the Gulf, such as early warning systems.

In fiscal 2009, UAE bought e7.9 billion in U.S. arms, topping Saudi Arabia, which bought $3.3 billion, according to a Pentagon estimate.

Speaking earlier at a U.S. military base in southwest Asia, Gates said Iran was seeking to undermine U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and "make our lives harder" by supporting the Taliban. But he stressed that such support was limited.

On Wednesday in Afghanistan, Ahmadinejad rejected those accusations and said: "What are you even doing in this area? You are from 10,000 km over there. Your country is on the other side of the world."