DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Leaked U.S. diplomatic memos have exposed a depth of alarm across the Middle East over the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran that has never been expressed publicly: Arab leaders said to be urging that Iran be attacked if it refuses to concede to international demands.
Iran's president scoffed Monday at revelations that its Arab neighbors have been lobbying the U.S. to use force — and also pointed the finger at Washington for mysterious bombings that killed one nuclear scientist and badly injured another. (See story, Page 2A)
The United States believes Iran has obtained missiles from North Korea that could reach Moscow and cities across Western Europe, according to one of several secret diplomatic assessments of Iran's weapons program.
The secret State Department cables obtained by WikiLeaks disclose that many of the United States' allies in the Arab world privately implored Washington to stop Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons while maintaining a more measured posture in public.
In one such plea, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia reportedly urged U.S. officials in 2008 to "cut off the head of the snake" while there was still time.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration moved forcefully Monday to contain damage from the release of more than a quarter-million classified diplomatic files, branding the action as an attack on the United States and raising the prospect of legal action against WikiLeaks.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that WikiLeaks acted illegally in posting the material. She said the Obama administration was taking "aggressive steps to hold responsible those who stole this information."
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said President Barack Obama was briefed on the impending leak last week and was "not pleased" about the breach of classified documents.
The U.S. documents contained raw comments normally muffled by diplomatic politesse: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi described as "feckless" and "vain." German Chancellor Angela Merkel dismissed as "risk averse and rarely creative."
"This disclosure is not just an attack on America's foreign policy interests," Clinton said. "It is an attack on the international community: the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity."
In Israel, the State Department's secret dispatches were trumpeted as proof that Arabs agree Iran poses the chief danger in the region.
Starkly opposing views from Tehran and Tel Aviv are a fact of life in the Middle East. But in the harsh light — and often blunt words — of the State Department cables, they are seen in a new context: Israel and Arab nations finding rare common ground and Iran's leadership left to wonder whether it will now face a tougher line.
It also could alter the tone of talks over Iran's nuclear program. Those are scheduled to resume Dec. 5 between Iran and world powers, including the United States, after a yearlong impasse that brought tighter U.N. and American sanctions on Tehran and some stinging blows — including international oil firms leaving Iran and Russia's refusal to deliver a long-awaited antiaircraft system to Iran's military.
Iran has so far used delaying tactics and counterproposals to sidestep U.N.-drafted demands to halt its uranium enrichment in exchange for reactor-ready fuel from abroad. The revelations in the U.S. memos — including American claims that Iran obtained advance missiles from North Korea — could bring sharper calls for Iran to show signs of good-faith negotiations.
The accounts of meetings with Arab leaders in some of the State Department cables suggest a sense of growing urgency and frustration over Iran.
One message said Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa — whose nation hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet — "argued forcefully for taking action to terminate their (Iran's) nuclear program, by whatever means necessary. That program must be stopped. The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it."
Another quoted Zeid Rifai, then president of the Jordanian Senate, telling a U.S. official that the options are to either "bomb Iran, or live with an Iranian bomb."
Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince in the UAE's emirate of Abu Dhabi, called Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "young and aggressive" and believed "this guy is going to take us to war. . . . It's a matter of time."
But perhaps the strongest views resonated from Saudi Arabia, the cornerstone U.S. ally in the gulf and the main counterweight against Iran.
One cable described how King Adbullah often urged a U.S.-led attack against Iran to "cut off the head of the snake" and cripple its nuclear weapons program.
In Tehran, however, Ahmadinejad struck back by calling the State Department cables "mischief" aimed at trying to sour Iran's relations with its Arab neighbors.
"We don't give any value to these documents," Ahmadinejad said. "It's without legal value. Iran and regional states are friends."