Clinton urges Arab nations to keep focus on Iran
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday urged Arab nations to stay focused on sanctions against Iran over its controversial nuclear programme, at the start of a regional tour.
"We don't want anyone to be misled by anyone's intelligence" reports, Clinton told reporters on her plane before landing in Abu Dhabi.
"We expect all of our partners who share that concern (over Iran)... to stay as focused as they can and to do everything within reason that will help to implement these sanctions," she said.
Clinton had been asked whether Arab nations would be tempted to relax the pressure on Iran now that new Israeli estimates suggest Iran would take longer to acquire the capacity to build a nuclear bomb than previously feared.
On December 29, Israel's strategic affairs minister, Moshe Yaalon, said the Islamic republic's nuclear programme has been beset by difficulties, leaving Tehran still about three years away from being able to build nuclear weapons.
"The timeline is not so important as the international effort to try to ensure that whatever the timeline Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons," Clinton said.
Israel, which has the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear arsenal, regards Iran as its principal threat, after repeated predictions by hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of the Jewish state's demise.
Along with the West, Israel suspects Iran of trying to develop atomic weapons under the guise of a civilian nuclear programme, a claim Tehran denies.
Israel has backed US-led efforts to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability through sanctions, but it has also refused to rule out military force.
Under US pressure, the UN Security Council last June imposed a fourth round of sanctions against Iran in a bid to halt its uranium enrichment programme.
US President Barack Obama's administration says it believes that the sanctions are "beginning to bite" and have helped to force Iran to return to negotiations over its nuclear ambitions.
Host Turkey said a new round of talks involving Iran and the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany will take place in Istanbul on January 21 and 22.
A previous round between Iran and the six world powers in Geneva on December 6 and 7 ended without any sign of progress.
In her five-day trip to the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar, Clinton said she will also urge the region to cooperate more to advance democratic, economic and social reforms.
Iraq and the stalled Palestinian-Israeli peace process will also be on the agenda as Clinton visits Abu Dhabi on Monday, the UAE commercial hub of Dubai on Tuesday, Muscat on Wednesday, and Doha on Wednesday and Thursday.
Obama on Tuesday congratulated Iraq after its parliament endorsed a new government led again by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, saying the move was a "significant" historic moment and represented a rejection of extremism.
Washington sees the new government — finally formed after elections in March — as more broadly representing Iraq's people, including the Sunni minority which dominated the country under Saddam Hussein and his predecessors.
"I'd 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," Clinton said on the plane.
She said she expected Iraq's reintegration into the region to be an item on the agenda of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) when she visits Doha. The GCC is made up of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
US officials said Kuwait, Bahrain and the UAE have posted ambassadors in Iraq, but Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Yemen have no diplomatic mission there.
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