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Clinton to Warn Gulf Countries Not to Ease Vigilance on Iran

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in the United Arab Emirates today to emphasize that Gulf states can’t let down their guard against Iran, in spite of Israeli estimates that the Persian nation’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons will take longer than expected.

Clinton meets today with leaders in the U.A.E. capital, Abu Dhabi, and then travels to the neighboring emirate of Dubai to discuss Iran’s nuclear ambitions and support for the newly minted government in Iraq. Her four-day trip will also take her to Qatar and Oman, where she will discuss prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, rising tension in Lebanon, Southern Sudan’s independence referendum and an insurgency and al-Qaeda militancy in Yemen.

Israel’s outgoing head of intelligence, Meir Dagan, said last week that Iran would not be able to produce a nuclear weapon before 2015. Earlier Israeli estimates put Iran one to two years away from achieving such a capability. In the Gulf, where Abu Dhabi’s leaders have pushed the U.S. to act aggressively against Iran and Dubai has urged a gentler approach, Dagan’s comments could hurt U.S. efforts to maintain a united front on economic sanctions.

“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 told reporters en route to the Gulf, where part of her agenda will be to urge Oman and Dubai to crack down on smuggling to Iran.

Keeping Focus

“I don’t know that it gives much comfort to somebody who is in the Gulf or is in a country that Iran has vowed to destroy that it’s a one-year or three-year timeframe,” Clinton said. “I think we should keep the focus where it belongs -- on the intensive international effort certainly highlighted by the sanctions, which we believe have had a very significant impact.”

Clinton addresses students and guests at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed University today as part of her other major goal for this trip: engaging civil society in the Arab world and encouraging governments in the region to do the same.

“In these countries, I’ll continue the security dialogues and talk about some of the challenges we face,” Clinton told reporters on the plane, “but also reach out very publicly to civil society groups. Activists and non-governmental organizations “in every country need to be part of our engagement, as well as more involved by their governments,” Clinton said.

Clinton built her trip around the seventh Forum for the Future, a conference for businesses and governments that focuses on sustainable development. This year, 20 countries from the Middle East, North Africa and the Group of Eight will meet in Qatar along with 250 civil society groups, giving Clinton the opportunity to “get a lot of business done,” she said.

Shadowed by Wikileaks

Her talks with the Gulf leaders will be shadowed by the Wikileaks release of diplomatic cables that revealed Abu Dhabi’s rulers see Iran as a “primordial” threat and oppose the way rulers in Dubai, Qatar and Oman are dealing with Iran.

Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, referred to in cables as “MbZ,” is quoted as saying the other Gulf countries are “dating” Iran, thinking if they’re nice, Iran won’t strike. “They are seriously mistaken,” he tells the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, according to the cables.

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