Clinton warns of Mideast N-arms race

JEDDAH: US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told Saudi college students today that if Iran gets a nuclear weapon it could trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. “Then you have all kinds of opportunity for problems that can be quite dangerous,” she said.

Clinton spoke at an all-women’s college in Jeddah called Dar al-Hekma, which translates in English to “House

of Wisdom.” Her appearance at the college was highly

unusual in a conservative Muslim nation.

Clinton ticked off a list of Iranian actions that she said violated its obligation not to pursue nuclear weapons, including construction of the Qom enrichment facility that came to light last fall. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Why are they doing this?”’ Clinton said.

Noting that Iran insists it is not pursuing the bomb,

she said, “The evidence

doesn’t support that.” “Everyone who I speak with in the Gulf, including the leaders here and leaders elsewhere in the region, are expressing deep concern about Iran’s intentions,” she said.

Clinton also called Iran “the largest supporter of terrorism in the world today.” She said the goal is to have not only a non-nuclear Iran but also an entire Middle East free of nuclear weapons. “If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, that hope disappears,” she said, “because then other countries which feel threatened by Iran will say to themselves, ‘If Iran has a nuclear weapon, I better get one, too, in order to protect my people.’ “Then you have a nuclear arms race in the region,” she said.

Clinton is an unlikely role model for Saudi women. Saudi law bars women from voting, except for chamber of commerce elections in two cities in recent years, and no woman can sit in the kingdom’s Cabinet. Women also cannot drive or travel without permission from a male guardian. Clinton was winding up a three-day Persian Gulf visit that began on Sunday in

Qatar and continued in the Saudi capital of Riyadh yesterday. She was returning to Washington later today.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has said it prefers an “immediate resolution” to the crisis over Iran’s nuclear programme rather than sanctions. US officials travelling with Clinton on the mission to drum up support for tougher action against Iran expressed satisfaction and said they were “very pleased” following her lengthy talks with King Abdullah yesterday.

But Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal

sounded less supportive of further sanctions against Iran, qualifying such measures as a “long-term solution.”

“We see the issue in the shorter term because we are closer to the threat ... We need an immediate resolution,” Saud said in a midnight press conference. It was not immediately clear whether Saud was calling for a tough and immediate UN resolution or another solution to the perceived threat from Iran.