By Arab News
By Ghazanfar Ali Khan
Hillary Rodham Clinton, US Secretary of State, who met with the foreign ministers of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) yesterday, proposed a strong missile shield to protect Gulf Arab states from Tehran and sought to work with them to help end the violence in Iran’s ally Syria.
Clinton said: “It is a US priority to help the GCC build a regional missile defense architecture” against what that country sees as a looming ballistic missile threat from Iran.
Clinton said that she looked forward to discussing the wide range of common strategic concerns, including preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and curbing its interference in the affairs of its neighbors.
In her remarks at the opening session of the first high-profile ministerial meeting of the GCC-US Strategic Cooperation Forum, she intimated that Washington sought improved ties and strategies with Gulf states in different fields including maritime security and missile defense to counter the threat of Iran.
Later, addressing newsmen at the GCC General Secretariat with Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Clinton said that Iran and six world powers had agreed to meet in Istanbul on April 13 for the latest round of talks about Tehran’s nuclear program.
She pointed out that Iran and the six nations — the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — also met in Istanbul some 14 months ago. The talks at that time ended without any conclusion, said Clinton while expressing fears and concerns.
“It will be clear soon whether Iran’s leaders are prepared to have a serious, credible discussion about their nuclear program, whether they are ready to start building the basis of a resolution to this very serious problem,” Clinton told reporters.
“It is up to Iran whether they are ready to make the right choice. … What is certain is that Iran’s window of opportunity to seek and obtain a peaceful resolution will not remain open forever.”
She also expressed doubt about whether Iran had any intention of negotiating a solution that satisfies the US, Israel and other countries that believe Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons.
In her speech at the GCC-US forum, Clinton also highlighted US concerns about Iran and Syria ahead of a broader international meeting in Istanbul aimed at ending President Bashar Assad’s crackdown in Syria, which has killed more than 10,000 innocent civilians in that country.
The forum also discussed overall relations and prospective cooperation between the GCC as a bloc and the US in political, economic, commercial and cultural fields. The participants took stock both of the political situations in the region, and regional and international issues of common interest.
This ministerial GCC-US forum was attended by GCC Secretary- General Abdullatif Al-Zayani, the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan; Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, Omani minister responsible for foreign affairs; Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sabah, deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs of Kuwait; and Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa, Bahraini minister of foreign affairs. Clinton also had a separate meeting with Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al-Thani, Qatari prime minister and minister of foreign affairs.
The GCC-US forum was considered a very important political development as it raises US security ties from a bilateral to a multilateral level with the GCC.
The US secretary of state was accompanied by top American officials including Jeffery D. Feltman, assistant secretary of state; Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political and military affairs; Mark J. Sullivan, director of United States Secret Service; Harri B. Harris, assistant to the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Puneet Talwar, assistant to the president and senior director for the Gulf states, Iran and Iraq.
Clinton broke new ground by taking part in the first strategic cooperation forum between Washington and the Gulf states in Riyadh. She looked forward to 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.”
The United States has already sold a number of different missile defense systems to partners in the Gulf region, including Patriot missiles that the official said would form the “building blocks” for such a system, she said.
Referring to the attitude of Iran, Clinton said that the US and the Gulf governments share concerns about Iran’s nuclear activity. She told the GCC officials that the partnership with the US had “enormous potential” to advance common interests. The United States’ commitment to Arab nations is “rock-solid and unwavering,” added Clinton. “Now we look forward to expanding our multilateral cooperation as well,” she said at the opening of the forum with GCC foreign ministers.
The forum’s meeting comes as the Obama administration is moving to strengthen its ties with Gulf nations whose geography and oil resources already have made them key players in US defense and energy security. Clinton also discussed with the Saudi officials international efforts to send more humanitarian aid into Syria, and support opposition efforts to present a united and inclusive political vision for the future. She also discussed tightening the array of US, European, Canadian, Arab and Turkish sanctions on Syria, US.
Despite the UN envoy’s demand for an immediate cease-fire and Clinton expressing concerns about Syria, the Syrian military clashed with defectors in the capital of Damascus and regime forces pummeled other areas with heavy gunfire yesterday.
The latest violence comes as Kofi Annan, UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria, urged President Assad to implement his six-point peace plan to end the violence and not wait for concessions from the opposition. The fighting undermines the peace initiative brokered by Annan, the United Nations and Arab League joint envoy to Syria. Assad accepted the terms of the plan Tuesday, but the bloodshed has persisted. The killing of civilians in Syria is continuing and all diplomatic efforts are being hampered by Syrian regime.
The US, Saudi and GCC officials also talked about Yemen, in light of the election and the transition process under way there and the strong role that Saudi Arabia has played in the GCC and otherwise in getting to this place. They also discussed the reforms in the Gulf, including the role of women. They discussed as how to keep the global oil supply strong in this period and the essential role that Saudi Arabia plays in that. The talks also focused on supporting the transitions underway in Tunisia and Egypt.
Referring to the wide-ranging talks between Prince Saud and Clinton here Friday, a diplomatic source said that, “the talks covered all bilateral and regional issues. The two sides focused on Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain and other subjects.
Clinton later flew to Istanbul, for a meeting on Sunday with the “Group of Friends of the Syrian People.”
Representatives from 60 nations have been invited to attend the Istanbul meet, ostensibly in an effort to help end the bloodshed in Syria and to discuss future course of action.