Clinton visits key allies in Persian Gulf

DOHA: US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton began a visit to two Persian Gulf allies today as part of a broader Obama administration effort to shore up support for taking a tougher stance against Iran’s nuclear programme.

Her stops in Qatar and in Saudi Arabia coincide with a string of diplomatic and military contacts in the Middle East, including a visit to Egypt today by Adm Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Clinton’s top three deputies — James Steinberg,

Jacob Lew and William Burns

— will be in the region in

coming days, and a Clinton aide said Gen David Petraeus, chief of US Central Command with responsibility for US

military operations across the Middle East, would also be in the region.

Their agenda is not focused exclusively on Iran. There also is an American push for closer cooperation in Yemen against al-Qaida, a move toward bolstering diplomatic relations with Syria and efforts to get Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations back on track.

After an overnight flight from Washington, Clinton went directly into a series of high-level meetings in the Qatari capital and was delivering an evening speech at the US-Islamic World Forum, where she was expected to echo and elaborate on President Barack Obama’s call during an appearance at Cairo University in Egypt last June for a new level of engagement with the Muslim world.

She also was holding

a one-on-one meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was attending the US-Islamic World Forum, which is jointly organised by the Qatari Foreign Ministry and the US Brookings Institution’s Saban Centre for Middle East Policy.

Obama addressed the forum by video yesterday, announcing that he is appointing a special envoy to the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

Tomorrow, Clinton is scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia - first to the capital, Riyadh, and then on Tuesday to the Red Sea city of Jeddah.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar, both situated across the Persian Gulf from Iran, are concerned about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. They are seen by the Obama administration as an important part of a regional effort to persuade the Iranians that it is in their economic interest to give up their uranium enrichment program as called for in a series of Security Council resolutions that Iran has ignored.

The State Department’s

top Middle East policy officer, Jeffrey Feltman, who was accompanying Clinton, told reporters on the flight from Washington that Iran would figure prominently in Clinton’s discussions in both Qatar and in Saudi Arabia.