Clinton offers Gulf states joint AMD shield against Iran

From left to right: Omani Minister of Foreign Affairs Yussef bin Alawi bin Abdullah, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled al-Hamad Al-Sabah, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal attend a US- Gulf Cooperation Council forum at the Gulf Cooperation Council Secretariat on March 31, 2012 in Riyadh. (AFP Photo / Fayez Nureldine)
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has proposed improved collaboration with Gulf Arab states on maritime security and missile defense to counter potential threats from Iran.

Clinton told a security conference in Saudi Arabia on Saturday that US commitment to the Gulf is "rock-solid and unwavering." She stressed the US and Gulf governments share concerns about Iran's nuclear activity and that partnership with the US has "enormous potential'' to advance common interests.

Raising security ties from a bilateral to a multilateral level, Clinton is breaking new ground by taking part in the first strategic cooperation forum between Washington and the six-country Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

She said the US and Gulf States should take "practical and specific steps to strengthen mutual security, such as helping militaries improve interoperability, cooperate on maritime security and missile defense, and coordinate responses to crises." US officials have said it is a US "priority" to help the GCC build a "regional missile defense architecture" against what they see as a looming ballistic missile threat from Iran.

Earlier, the Pentagon unveiled plans to deploy elements of its global antiballistic missile defense system in Asia and the Middle East. American plans for the Middle East include the promotion of "interoperability and information-sharing" among members of the Gulf Cooperation Council as they acquire greater missile-defense capabilities. The countries involved are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

On Friday, Clinton met with Saudi King Abdullah to discuss regional military strategy, primarily coordination among the Arab Gulf states on how to unite their defensive capacities into a cohesive regional strategy.

The United States is already planning to sell defensive missile technology to the UAE, which along with Saudi Arabia ranks among the more militarily advanced. But Washington wants the big and small Gulf governments to reconcile their distrust of each other and develop a united long-term missile defense architecture.

Clinton has also announced Saturday that talks aimed at preventing Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon would resume on April 13 in Turkey. She stressed, however, that time is running out for diplomacy over Iran's nuclear program, saying Iran's "window of opportunity'' for a peaceful resolution "will not remain open forever.''

She also expressed doubt about whether Iran has any intention of negotiating a solution that satisfies the US, Israel and other countries that believe Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

"We enter into these talks with a sober perspective about Iran's intentions. It is incumbent upon Iran to demonstrate by its actions that it is a willing partner and to participate in these negotiations with an effort to obtain concrete results,'' she said.

Iran and the six nations, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, met in Istanbul fourteen months ago. But the talks ended after two days with the sides unable to agree on what to talk about. New round of talks will take place amid increased international concern over Iran's uranium enrichment activity and speculation that the US or Israel may be gearing up for military action. The US, Israel and some Arab countries accuse Iran of trying to build nuclear weapons, but the Islamic republic insists its program is solely for peaceful energy and research purposes.

Saturday's talks have also covered ways to pressure Syrian President Bashar Assad to end a crackdown on the uprising against his rule. Before heading to Turkey for a 60-nation 'Friends of Syria' meeting Sunday, Clinton said that attacks on rebels have continued despite Assad's acceptance of UN mediator Kofi Annan's plan to end the crisis. That plan includes an immediate cease-fire and an eventual democratic transition.

Clinton said officials meeting in Turkey would discuss "additional steps to increase pressure on the regime, provide humanitarian assistance despite the efforts of the regime to block access and advance plans for an inclusive, democratic and orderly transition that addresses the aspirations of the Syrian people.'' She has also stressed that US position on Assad remains unchanged and "must go".