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Clinton Heads for Gulf Talks Focusing on Iran, Iraq

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leaves Washington Saturday for talks in the Gulf region focusing on Iran’s nuclear program and the need for greater Gulf Arab support for Iraq’s new government. Clinton will visit the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar.

The Gulf trip is Clinton’s second in a six-week span and reflects the degree of shared concern by the United States and Gulf countries about the Iranian nuclear program.

The extent of worry among the oil-rich Gulf states about a potentially nuclear-armed Iran was underscored recently by leaked U.S. embassy cables that suggested that several Gulf leaders have the issue at the top of their agenda, higher even than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In a talk with reporters Friday, senior State Department officials said Clinton will brief Gulf leaders on U.S. expectations for the next round of big-power nuclear talks with Iran, now scheduled for January 20th in Istanbul.

While acknowledging that sanctions alone will probably not deter Iran from its apparent nuclear weapons quest, the officials said Clinton would urge Gulf states to tighten their enforcement of U.N. mandated sanctions despite what are in some cases major economic relationships with Tehran.

The predominately-Sunni Muslim Gulf States have been reluctant to fully embrace the Shiite-led Iraqi government that emerged after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Sunni strongman Saddam Hussein in 2003.

The officials said now that a new government in Baghdad has finally emerged after months of post-election stalemate, the United States would like to see all the Gulf countries make affirmative steps to support Iraq. That would include re-opening shuttered embassies and committing to attend the Arab League summit in Baghdad later this year.

State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said the “re-integration” of Iraq in the region is a U.S. policy priority. “There is a new government that is just now in place, getting its feet on the ground. And I think her message will be that, as the government stabilizes and begins its work, that it would be appropriate for these countries to do an outreach and work collaboratively, and draw Iraq, reintegrate Iraq if you will, into the rest of the region," he said.

The keynote event on the Clinton trip, spanning six-days, will be a meeting in Qatar next Thursday of the Forum for the Future, a joint project of the G-8 industrial countries and Arab states aimed at strengthening civil society in the region.

It is the seventh in a series of such forums bringing together government leaders and members of non-governmental organizations.

Clinton, who will also hold a “town-hall”-style meeting with NGO leaders and students Monday in Abu Dhabi, has stressed the role of civil society in bringing about political liberalization and economic gains in Arab societies.