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Turning Up The Volume On Iran?

Peter Maer is a White House correspondent for CBS News currently reporting from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
President Bush wants Arab allies to back U.S. efforts to isolate Iran. Winning their support is one of the top tours of his Middle East trip. He used a speech in the United Arab Emirates to describe Iran as "the world's leading sponsor of state terror." While the president's words were familiar, the volume was inherently louder here in Iran's back yard. Gulf nations share U.S. concerns about Iran's increasing influence in the energy-rich region but they fear any talk of war. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley told reporters aboard Air Force One, "All agreed it's a difficult problem that needs to be addressed and at this point pursued in a diplomatic fashion."

Heading into the trip, officials indicated Iran would be a major issue at each stop. But after talks in Bahrain and The United Arab Emirates, Hadley insisted the issue did not "dominate" the president's talks with Gulf state leaders. The advisor did not seem eager to discuss the tone of the president's talks. Reporters tried to pin him down on the topic.

From the official White House transcript of the Hadley briefing:

REPORTER: Steve, what can you say about the texture of anything that leaders in either Abu Dhabi or Dubai have had to say to the President about Iran?

HADLEY: The focus of discussion has really been on what these leaders are doing for their countries, and I think the impression they give, each of them in different ways, is they're very visionary, they're very ambitious for their countries. They are very — they have both a vision and a will and a plan to get it done. And you know our president — he likes folks who are action-oriented and trying to get things done on the ground for their people. And that I think is the overwhelming story here, and that was what was the focus. And I think the President was very much impressed by what he saw in terms of the people, in terms of the leadership. And there — I think he felt there's an opportunity for us to strengthen ties with these leaders. So that's really what I think he found most interesting about his conversations.

REPORTER: While that is the overwhelming story, we also deal in sidebars. What was said about Iran?

HADLEY: I've told you what was said about Iran. There's — he emphasizes the importance of the seriousness with which they take the issue — he takes the issue. They emphasized to him the seriousness with which he — they take the issue. All agreed it's a difficult problem that needs to be addressed and at this point pursue in a diplomatic fashion.

REPORTER: Are they concerned that the United States has been too bellicose on this issue? I mean, if it would be a fight it would be right in their backyard.

HADLEY: No mention of anything like that.

REPORTER: Came up — in which discussions did Iran come up in?

HADLEY: I don't know which one. I'm basically taking the two of them and putting them together, trying to give you a sense of what …

REPORTER: Which forum? You're sure which forum?

HADLEY: I don't know which one it came up — it wasn't — it didn't dominate the discussion in either forum.

It's likely the issue did not "dominate" the agenda because the president's hosts don't want the U.S. driving their dealings with the Iranians. Each of the countries has its own way of communicating with Iran. They have a complex web of diplomatic and business channels to Tehran. Even before the president arrived in Riyahd, the Saudis served notice that they would hear him out but that they had their own direct contacts with Tehran.

Smacking a tightly-clenched fist into his open hand, a high-ranking foreign ministry official in one of the Gulf countries on the Bush tour told CBS News, "this is not the way to deal with Iran." The official whose diplomatic responsibilities include the Iran portfolio said Tehran does not respond to threats. Describing his Iranian counterparts as "stubborn," he said isolation is one thing, but saber rattling won't work.

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