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UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Arabs tell Iran to stop interfering

February 4, 2009 |  9:15 am

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Pro-American Arab states are squawking that they've apparently had enough of being stigmatized by their Persian neighbor for failing their brothers in Palestine during the Israeli conflict against Hamas in Gaza.

On Tuesday, a group of top Arab officials held a meeting in the United Arab Emirates meant to put an end to Iran’s meddling into what they described as Arab affairs.

After the closed-door meeting of nine foreign ministers, UAE Foreign Minister Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed al Nayahan told reporters:

"We are working to get beyond a difficult phase and create an Arab consensus on stopping unwelcome and unconstructive interference in our affairs by non-Arab parties."

The minister was clearly referring to Iran, which is celebrating  the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution these days. Iran is a non-Arab Shiite nation; most of the Middle East is Sunni and Arab.

Relations between the so-called moderate Arab nations and Iran have been sour for a while, even though Tehran and the Persian Gulf states continue to do a lot of business. 

But the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip deepened the rift between Arab nations allied with the U.S., mainly Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and the Iranian-led camp that supported the Palestinian militant group, Hamas, in its war with Israel.

Although the situation in Gaza has calmed down, disputes continue over the divisions between the two Palestinian leaderships.

On one side, Egyptians and Saudis are voicing their support to the Palestinian Authority represented by the Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Maliki was present at Tuesday's meeting, along with officials from the UAE, Tunisia, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

On the other side, Iran backs the Palestinian “resistance” spearheaded by Hamas and its leader, Khaled Meshaal, as well as smaller groups like Islamic Jihad.

Meshaal, who is exiled in Damascus, was wrapping up a high-profile visit to Tehran. 

Western powers accuse the Islamic Republic of arming Hamas. Iran sidesteps these allegations, insisting that Palestinians deserve to defend themselves against the aggression of Israel, which receives $2.5 billion in American military aid a year.

Participants in Tuesday’s meeting said they were trying to bridge their differences so as to prop up an Arab proposal of peace with Israel. They said their consultations would continue in later conferences.

Underlying the talks is deep worry about how the rhetoric of Iran and Syria is playing on the Arab street, which is outraged by the fact that Iranians and Turks appear more supportive of Palestinians than their own countries.

-- Raed Rafei in Beirut

Photo: Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Maliki, left, and Yasser Abed Rabo, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, arrive in Abu Dhabi.

Credit: Marwan Naamani / AFP

P.S. Get news from Iran, Gaza, Israel and the rest of the Middle East in your mailbox every day. The Los Angeles Times distributes a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, including the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can subscribe by logging in at the website here, clicking on the box for "L.A. Times updates" and then clicking on the "World: Mideast" box.

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