U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has begun a five-day visit to the Gulf region aimed at persuading Arab allies to tighten nuclear sanctions on Iran, and to enhance their ties with Iraq’s newly formed government. She says Arab allies should stay focused on Iran despite reports its nuclear weapons drive may have slowed.
Clinton’s visit here was preceded by reports that Iran’s apparent quest for a nuclear weapons capability may take considerably longer than anticipated only months ago.
But she says that should be little consolation to countries in the Gulf and elsewhere that might be threatened or intimidated by a nuclear-armed Iran, and that the world community should continue tightening sanctions on Tehran.
In an airborne talk with reporters moments before her arrival in Abu Dhabi, Clinton downplayed a published suggestion by the retiring head of Israel’s intelligence service that Iran might not have a weapons capability before 2015. "The timeline is not so important as the international effort to try to ensure that whatever the timeline, Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons. I don’t know that it gives much comfort to somebody who is in the Gulf, or is in a country that Iran has vowed to destroy that it’s a one year or a three-year time frame. So I think we should keep the focus where it belongs on the intensive international effort, certainly highlighted by the sanctions," she said.
Clinton said Iran, which has close trade ties with some Gulf states, is constantly trying to evade the impact of U.N. nuclear sanctions.
She said the consistent U.S. message to friends in the Gulf is that there is no part of the world with more at stake in trying to deter Iran from becoming the creator and possessor of nuclear arms.
Clinton also said she is trying to prod the mainly Sunni-Muslim Gulf states to fully embrace Iraq’s Shiite-led government, especially after last month’s coalition deal in Baghdad that ended a months-long stalemate.
"I would like to see every country open an embassy. I’d like to see normal relations. I’d like to see the leaders of Iraq invited and consulted. I hope that when I’m in Doha, we’ll have a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council. And that will be one of the issues on the agenda so far as I’m concerned. So it’s slowly, but I think positively, making progress," she said.
Clinton said her Gulf talks also will cover Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and ways to bolster stability in Yemen.
Her Gulf trip includes stops in Dubai, Oman and Qatar, where in Doha she will join in the seventh Forum for the Future.
A joint undertaking of Arab countries and G-8 industrial powers, the forum is aimed, among other things, at strengthening civil society and advancing womens’ empowerment in the region.