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 a series of classified diplomatic cables released by the WikiLeaks website.
The cables show that 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 U.S. to strike Iran. According to one dispatch, a Saudi official reminded the U.S. that the king had repeatedly asked the nation 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 on their websites on 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:
• U.S. officials believe North Korea has provided Iran with missiles that could allow it to strike Europe and Western capitals.
• U.S. diplomats have been assigned to gather a wide variety of information on foreign officials, including such details as credit card numbers. The United Nations secretary-general and his team have been among the special targets of this information gathering.
• 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.
• U.S. officials have been told by a Chinese source that the Chinese politburo was behind the hacking of Google’s computer system in China.
The White House denounced the disclosures as “dangerous and reckless,” warning that 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.
While the trove of cables did not contain startling revelations about Iran, they show that the Islamic republic has been a preoccupation of the Obama administration and the Bush White House before it.
The documents illustrate how frightened the Arab world is of Iran’s rising ambitions and its nuclear program – and how much Iran has become the center of attention in capitals around the world. 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.”
While Persian Gulf leaders recognize that 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.
“That program must be stopped,” one Nov. 4, 2009, cable quotes al Khalifa as telling Gen. David H. 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 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. Another cable noted that even so, the federation did not abide by U.S. requests to interdict suspicious shipments transiting its shores to Iran. A February 2010 cable attributes bin Zayed’s “near obsessive” arms buildup to his fears about Iran.
“I believe this guy is going to take us to war,” bin Zayed told a U.S. delegation in April 2006 of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “It’s a matter of time. Personally I cannot risk it with a guy like Ahmadinejad. He is young and aggressive.”
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.”
During an April 2008 visit to Saudi Arabia, Petraeus and former U.S. envoy to Baghdad Ryan Crocker got 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 Riyadh 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.
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 U.S. 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.