Demonstration outside the US embassy in London last January against any attack on Iran and Syria
Demonstration outside the US embassy in London last January against any attack on Iran and Syria

THE Pentagon is building a missile defence radar station at a covert location in Qatar, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.

The site will be part of a system intended to defend the interests of the United States and its allies against Iranian rockets, unnamed US officials told the newspaper.

The Journal also reported that Washington was preparing for its biggest-ever minesweeping exercises in the Gulf in September, calling them the ‘first such multilateral drills in the region’.

A similar radar has existed on Mount Keren in the Negev Desert since 2008 and another is installed in Turkey as part of NATO’s missile defence shield.

In addition, officials told the Journal that US Central Command, which oversees US military operations in the Middle East and South Asia, wants to deploy the first Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile system in the area in the coming months, possibly in the United Arab Emirates.

Tensions with Iran are rife in the Gulf region.

An Indian fisherman was killed and three others wounded on Monday when a US navy ship opened fire on their vessel near the United Arab Emirates port of Jebel Ali in the southern Gulf.

US defence officials said the fishing boat had ignored warnings not to approach the refuelling ship USNS Rappahannock, and that sailors on board the American vessel feared it could pose a threat.

The United States has warned Tehran about blocking the strategically important Strait of Hormuz, and has significantly bolstered its military presence there.

Fears of a closure of the strait – through which about a fifth of the world’s traded oil passes – intensified earlier this year after Iran threatened to close it if Western governments kept up efforts to rein in Tehran’s controversial nuclear programme by choking off its oil exports.

In Israel on Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington would use ‘all elements of its power’ to prevent Iran going nuclear and was working in ‘close consultation’ with Israel over how to do so.

And she said a resumption of talks between Israel and the Palestinians would only come about if the parties ‘do the hard work for peace’.

Speaking to reporters at the end of a whirlwind 24-hour visit to Jerusalem, Clinton said that Iran had not yet decided to curb its nuclear ambitions, and warned that Washington would stop at nothing to prevent it from getting a nuclear bomb.

‘We will use all elements of American power to prevent Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon,’ she said in remarks which carried an implied threat of military action — a course of action never ruled out by Washington.

Thanks to US efforts to rally the international community to tackle the Iranian nuclear threat, Tehran was ‘under greater pressure than ever before,’ Clinton said, indicating that the Obama administration was ‘pressing forward in close consultation with Israel’.

‘I think it is fair to say we are on the same page at this moment, trying to figure our way forward to have the maximum impact on affecting the decisions that Iran makes,’ Clinton said.

Clinton arrived in Israel late on Sunday at the tail end of a 13-day tour of nine countries, holding talks with top officials including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Although Israel has warned a nuclear Iran would pose an existential threat to the Jewish state and has refused to rule out a military strike on its nuclear facilities, Peres expressed confidence in Washington’s tough stance on Tehran.

‘I think the coalition we have built, and the measures you have taken are beginning to have their impact…they are the right start,’ he told Clinton.

‘We appreciate very much your position. We trust its depth and dedication and determination and we feel partners of this coalition.’

The US diplomat also briefed the Israelis on her talks with Egypt’s new Islamist President, Mohamed Morsi, and sought to reassure them that the new Cairo administration had reaffirmed support for the peace treaty which she said had ‘served as a backbone for regional stability for more than three decades’.

There has been some concern in Israel that Morsi, who emerged out of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, might seek to renegotiate the treaty.

Clinton said: ‘The amount of work ahead of this Egyptian government would be daunting for the most experienced leaders. The economy is in desperate need of reform.

‘The political system is a work in progress, a long way from being finalised. There are serious fissures within society that have to be addressed.’

In talks with Peres, Clinton updated him on ‘the latest developments and the approaches of the new Egyptian leadership, and stressed the importance of strengthening the relations between Israel and Egypt,’ the president’s office said.

The stalled peace process was also high on the agenda, with Clinton reportedly telling Israel that Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and his prime minister Salam Fayyad were the best peace partners Israel could have, an Israeli official at the talks was quoted as saying.

And she also pushed Israel to make gestures to strengthen the Palestinian leader, Israeli press reports said.

But ultimately, a return to peace talks would be dependent on ‘hard work’ by the two parties, she told reporters at a late-night press conference.

‘So our goal remains an independent Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside a secure Jewish democratic state of Israel.

‘We remain focused on the resumption of direct negotiations since we believe that is the only route to a lasting stable peace. The international community can help…we stand ready to do so, to help support an environment for talks but it’s up to the parties to do the hard work for peace,’ she said.

‘To those who say the timing isn’t right, the other side has to move first, or the trust just isn’t there, I say: peace won’t wait and the responsibility falls on all of us to keep pressing forward.’

She also met with Fayyad in Jerusalem, describing their meeting as ‘excellent’ and saying the Palestinian premier had briefed her on ‘the challenges that the Palestinian Authority faces and what the United States can do to support them’.

Ahead of his dinner meeting with Clinton, Netanyahu thanked her for helping shore up Israel’s ties with Egypt and said he was keen to hear about her talks with President Morsi in Cairo.

He also said the two would discuss ways to break the deadlock in peace talks with the Palestinians.

Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been frozen for nearly two years following an intractable dispute over Jewish settlement building.

• Meanwhile two more of the US’s allies in the Middle East, Iraq and Turkey, have fallen out.

Turkey must stop accepting ‘illegal’ transfers of crude oil from the autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq or risk damaging bilateral ties, Iraq government spokesman Ali Dabbagh warned on Sunday.

His remarks were the latest sign of cooling ties between Ankara and Baghdad, as well as between the central government and the autonomous Kurdish region over oil exports.

‘Turkey must stop the unauthorised export of oil through its land,’ Dabbagh said in an e-mailed statement. ‘Exporting oil from the Kurdistan region to Turkey is illegal.’

He warned that Turkey was contributing to the ‘smuggling of Iraqi oil’ and said: ‘This matter will affect relations between the two countries, especially economic relations, which will be damaged.’

Dabbagh added: ‘This oil and gas is the property of all Iraqis and it must be exported by, and its revenues go to, the federal government, which represents all Iraqis.’

A Kurdish official said a week ago that Iraqi Kurdistan had begun sending oil produced in its three-province region out of Iraq without the express permission of the central government.

‘We started exporting limited quantities of crude oil to Turkey a few days ago,’ said Seerwan Abubaqr, an adviser to the Kurdistan regional government’s natural resources ministry.

He said the crude was being exported to Turkey so it could be refined into various products before being brought back to Iraqi Kurdistan.

‘If we need to, we will export oil to Iran,’ Abubaqr added. ‘We will continue exports of crude oil until the central government provides the region with oil products.

‘The central government has pushed us to do this.’

Kurdish officials say the central government has barred the dispatch of petroleum products to the northern region, but the oil ministry in Baghdad has persistently denied those allegations.

Ties between Iraq and Turkey, which had been improving, have cooled considerably since December, particularly over Turkey’s refusal to extradite Iraq’s fugitive Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi, who is currently on trial in absentia on charges he ran a death squad.

The extradition spat added to a deterioration of ties between the two countries, which summoned Ankara’s envoy to Baghdad twice in a single month to complain over different incidents.

And a dispute over oil between Baghdad and the Kurdish government in Arbil has also worsened, with Kurdistan looking to ramp up oil production and export capabilities, and the region has also cut off oil exports to Iraq in a payment row.

Arbil has signed dozens of contracts with foreign oil firms aimed at boosting its oil sector. But the central government, which says all oil contracts must go through Baghdad and regards any that do not as illegal, has strenuously opposed such deals.