Miliband urges Gulf to pressure Iran in nuclear standoff

LONDON (Reuters) - Foreign Secretary David Miliband will urge Gulf Arab states on Monday to step up pressure on Iran over its nuclear program by imposing financial restrictions and tightening export controls.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband speaks during a news conference at the government palace in Beirut November 19, 2008. REUTERS/ Mohamed Azakir

In a speech in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Miliband will say that the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran poses the most immediate threat to Middle East stability.

He will say Britain is keen to work with Gulf countries on dealing with the Iranian nuclear question, according to an advance text of his speech.

“You offer serious incentives for economic cooperation -- in terms of closer economic ties or preferential trade arrangements -- if Iran plays by the rules,” Miliband will tell an event hosted by the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research, a think tank.

“And you could pursue further restrictive measures, partly financial but also for instance clamping down on smuggling or tightening up export controls on goods which could support the development of nuclear weapons,” he will say.

The United Nations Security Council has imposed three rounds of sanctions on Iran because of its refusal to halt uranium enrichment, which the West fears is aimed at making a nuclear bomb. Tehran says it is pursuing only civilian nuclear power.

Miliband will say that Arab leaders, journalists or academics he spoke to often raised concerns about Iranian influence and activities.

“There is much that the Arab countries could do to counter Tehran’s claims that their quest for greater influence and their nuclear program enjoys tacit support throughout the region,” he will say.

The pressure being put on Iran was not an attempt at regime change nor a precursor to military action, Miliband will say.

“We are 100 percent committed to a diplomatic resolution of this dispute... But for diplomacy to work we need to present Tehran with a stark choice. Either it cooperates with the U.N. Security Council ... or it continues on its current path towards further confrontation and isolation,” he will say.

Iranian officials have rejected demands that it halt uranium enrichment, a process which can have both civilian and military purposes, in exchange for trade and other economic benefits.

Miliband will also say that Israeli-Arab peacemaking is at a critical point. “If the status quo continues, I believe that the prospect of peace could disappear forever,” he will say.

Miliband will say the time has come to build on an Arab League proposal and ensure Arab leaders are part of a renewed, comprehensive Middle East peace process.

The 2002 Arab peace initiative offered Israel normal ties with all Arab states if it withdrew from all Arab territories seized in the 1967 war.

Arab leaders would do well to show U.S. President-elect Barack Obama that the offer was still on the table, Miliband will say.

Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Sami Aboudi