Clinton in Gulf for talks on Iran, Middle East

Monday, January 10, 2011

ABU DHABI - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton kick-started a five-day tour of the Gulf region with high-level meetings Monday that focused on security and civil society.

“In countries that I’m visiting I will be obviously meeting with leaders to continue the security dialogues that we are engaged in to talk through some of the challenges we face,” she told reporters en route to the UAE.

The state-run news agency WAM reported that Monday Clinton met with Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, and a number of other UAE officials.

The two sides discussed ways of enhancing security in the region and the latest developments concerning the Middle East peace process, according to WAM.

En route to the Gulf, Clinton said she would also be “reaching out very publicly to civil society and a lot of the activists and the NGOs that have been on the front lines working for change and a particular emphasis - it will not surprise you - on women and girls”.

Upon arrival in the UAE late Sunday, Clinton appeared on a female-oriented show called “Soft Talk,” broadcast on the popular MBC channel.

She responded to a question from the audience about why the US had allowed Israel to stay mum on its suspected nuclear arsenal, while holding Iran to a different standard.

She said that the US was committed to a nuclear-free Middle East, “but in order to get there we have to resolve the Palestinian dispute and the Iran issue”.

Following her visit to the UAE, Clinton is scheduled to visit Oman and Qatar as part of her five-day trip. She is to urge the leaders of those countries to work toward stronger relations with Iraq as it tries to reintegrate into the Middle East after years of conflict, a senior State Department official said.

She will also explore ways to pressure Iran over its suspected nuclear ambitions, said the official. Iran maintains that its programme is purely for producing energy.

The Washington Post reported that “an underlying goal of the trip was shoring up Arab support for key US objectives in the region”. Among those goals is creating a deterrent against growing Iranian influence in the Gulf.

The US announced an arms deal late last year worth up to $60 billion that includes advanced fighter jets, helicopters, missiles and other weaponry and equipment to Saudi Arabia, in the largest US arms deal ever.

A top-level State Department official acknowledged part of the deal was aimed at offsetting Iran’s growing military capabilities.

On Tuesday Clinton is also set to spend several hours in Yemen, where she is due to meet Yemeni graduates of US universities as well as parliamentarians and members of the opposition. She is also due to meet with President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

This is Clinton’s second trip to the Gulf region, following her visit to Bahrain in early December for a security conference.

Filed under: Diplomacy

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