Iran will ‘never use’ force against Muslim neighbours

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MANAMA: Iran sought on Saturday to calm the fears of its neighbours, saying it would never use force against them because they are Muslims, after the United States highlighted concerns over Tehran’s suspected nuclear weapons program.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was speaking at a conference on Middle East security at which Jordan’s King Abdullah II said Israeli-Palestinian peace talks must be rescued from collapse to ensure regional and world stability.

"We have never used our force against our neighbours and never will because our neighbours are Muslims," Mottaki told journalists on the sidelines of the Manama Dialogue, which US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton opened on Friday.

"Your power in the region is our power and our power is your power."

Clinton had said US concerns over Tehran nuclear program are shared by Iran’s neighbours in the Gulf, through which most of the world’s oil flows.

Mottaki cautioned against submitting to "pressure by outsiders to divide us and create instability," saying "the presence of foreign powers will not help establish security in the region" and urging cooperation among Gulf countries.

He said it was vital to "have stability and security, because we (Iran and its neighbours) provide the world with most of its energy," and that Iran is determined to guarantee international security in the field of energy."

Clinton said "there is no debate in the international community, and perhaps the Iranians will engage seriously… on what is a concern shared by nations on every continent, but most particularly right here in the region."

She was referring to talks due to start between major powers and Iran in Geneva on Monday over Tehran’s nuclear program, which has led the United Nations and Western powers to impose sanctions on the country.

"Because obviously if you’re the neighbour of a country that is pursuing nuclear weapons, that is viewed in a much more threatening way than if you’re a concerned country many thousands of miles away. But the concern is the same and we hope that Iran will respond."

Some of the most prominent headlines of the past week have highlighted widespread fears among Arab countries in the Gulf about Iran’s nuclear program and their calls to nip it in the bud.

The United States and other Western states, along with Israel, suspect Iran is using a nuclear energy program as cover for building a bomb.

Tehran strongly denies that.

Mottaki denied US assertions earlier this week that the sanctions were hurting Iran, saying they "had no effect on the economy."

He also described as a "step forward" Clinton remarks on Friday that Iran is entitled to a peaceful nuclear energy program.

"But these words should be turned into action," he added.

He was responding to a question about remarks Clinton made to the BBC, in which she said Iran could enrich uranium for civilian purposes in the future, but only once it has demonstrated it can do so in a responsible manner and in accordance with Iran’s international obligations.

"The position of the international community is clear," Clinton said on Friday.

"You (Iran) have the right to a peaceful nuclear program. But with that right comes a reasonable responsibility: that you follow the treaty you signed, and fully address the world’s concerns about your nuclear activities."

For his part, King Abdullah said "our region will not enjoy security and stability unless we solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and Arabs, Muslims and Israelis find peace."

"If hope is killed, radical forces will prevail. The region will sink into more vicious warfare and instability, threatening security far beyond the borders of the Middle East," he warned.

"This is why it is essential that we rescue the new round of negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel," he said of direct peace talks launched in September in Washington.

The talks have ground to a halt as Israel refused Palestinian demands to impose a new moratorium on settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.

On Friday, Clinton told reporters in Manama that Washington is "working intensively" to break the impasse in Palestinian-Israeli talks.

She later said in an interview aired by the US Arabic-language satellite television Al-Hurra that Washington would make announcements next week about the peace process but she declined to give more details.

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