At a time of increasing tension between Iran and the West, a senior Iranian official has again proposed the establishment of a security pact with mostly Sunni Arab Gulf states that historically have enjoyed close ties with the United States.
Yahya Rahim Safavi, a senior military advisor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, told Iran's Alalam TV that foreign military presence in the Persian Gulf has caused insecurity, and that the states on either side of the Gulf were themselves able to provide regional security.
"U.S. troops are gatecrashers and must leave Iraq and the Persian Gulf," he said, asserting that as a powerful and influential country in the region, Iran protects the common interests of Gulf and Mideast states.
"Iran hails the idea of joint defense agreements with Arab states," said Safavi, who until recently served as commander-in-chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
The Iranian Students News Agency reported that Safavi said Khamenei had proposed a defense pact and "now it is their [Gulf states'] turn to show their will."
Despite Washington's attempts to characterize Iran as a danger, he said, Arab states in the region were well aware that Iran bore them no ill-will.
The "uninvited guests" should leave the region, which belongs to Iran and the Arabic countries, Safavi said.
Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain are members of the 26-year old Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a grouping established following the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war in the early 1980s. The GCC traditionally has viewed Shia Iran with suspicion.
Members of the bloc have strong defense ties with the West: Qatar is home to the U.S. Central Command, and will soon also host a French military training school. The U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and 5th Fleet are headquartered in Bahrain, and the U.S. Army has bases located in Kuwait.
The Bush administration last year launched the Gulf Security Dialogue, an initiative aimed at improving GCC members' air and naval capabilities and their capacities to defend against non-conventional weapons attack.
In late July, Washington announced some $20 billion in arms sales to the Arab Gulf states, and the head of Central Command, Adm. William Fallon, is this week visiting the GCC members.
Iranian expert Dr. Ilan Berman, vice president for policy at the American Foreign Policy Council, noted that Iran has proposed a regional collective security mechanism several times in the past.
He pointed in particular to an article by Iran's then-U.N. envoy, M. Javad Zarif, published in the New York Times in May 2003 -- shortly after the fall of Baghdad -- calling for an "indigenous and internationally guaranteed regional security arrangement."
Although this isn't the first time that Iran has made overtures to the states along the Gulf's western shoreline, the latest effort comes amid heightened tension over Iran's nuclear program and U.S. accusations of a toxic Iranian role in the violence in Iraq.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner's warning that the nuclear standoff with Iran could lead to war drew an angry response from Tehran, including threats to fire long-range missiles at Israel and at U.S. forces in the region.
"Today the Americans are around our country but this does not mean that they are encircling us. They are encircled themselves and are within our range," the Irna state news agency quoted IRGC Gen. Mohammed Hassan Koussechi as saying.
Earlier this month, Iran proposed formal talks with the GCC states on negotiating a free-trade agreement.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki explained at the time that Tehran wanted to broaden political and economic ties with the neighboring states, based on mutual interests.
The Iranian initiative comes at a time when the U.S. is urging its allies to isolate Tehran economically and diplomatically over the nuclear dispute.
The Riyadh-based secretary-general of the GCC, Abdelrahman al Attiya, said Tuesday that the bloc's economic and trade cooperation committee would review Iran's proposal, and welcomed all efforts aimed at enhancing mutual interests in the region, the Kuwait news agency reported.