Iran's top national security official urged Arabs on Tuesday to eject the U.S. military from bases in the region and instead join Tehran in a regional security alliance.
The audacious offer by Ali Larijani at the Arab Strategy Forum was the strongest sign yet of Iran's rising assertiveness in its contest with the United States for influence in the region.
Gulf countries, suspicious of Iran's intentions, are unlikely to respond to the call and push out the American military or end U.S. security deals they view as offering them an umbrella of protection, many here said.
Larijani apparently aimed to allay Arab concerns and raise suspicion about U.S. intentions in his speech Tuesday. He told Arab business leaders and political analysts that Washington is indifferent to their interests and will cast them aside when they are no longer useful.
"The security and stability of the region needs to be attained and we should do it inside the region, not through bringing in foreign forces," Larijani said. "We should stand on our own feet."
Such words are a direct rejection by Iran of the "notion that it can be contained," said Vali Nasr, an Iran expert with the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, who attended the conference.
"They're saying it's in our common interest that the U.S. leaves. But their larger message is that 'We don't want to take over the region,' " Nasr said.
Speakers at the Arab Strategy Forum said they believed Iran's rising clout came as a direct result of the faltering U.S. policy in Iraq.
Larijani's proposal outlines what analysts here describe as an attempt to split the Arab world into two camps: a U.S.-Israeli-Arab coalition that seeks to contain Iran and an anti-American, anti-Israeli alliance led by Iran.