x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Clinton: Gulf shares US concerns over Iran

The US Secretary of State says that Gulf countries share America's concern over Iran's nuclear aspirations and she hoped the Islamic Republic would arrive at talks next week ready to negotiate.

MANAMA // The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday that Gulf countries shared America's concern over Iran's nuclear aspirations and that she hoped the Islamic Republic would arrive at talks next week ready to negotiate.

Speaking in Bahrain where she was attending a security conference, Mrs Clinton said Iran "should not and cannot be permitted to develop nuclear weapons because of the destabilising proliferation effect of such a decision."

Mrs Clinton's remarks come ahead of renewed P5+1 negotiations on Monday between Iran and the five permanent members of the security council - China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States - plus Germany.

"Perhaps the Iranians, with their return to the talks in Geneva starting Monday, will engage seriously with the international community on what is a concern shared by nations on every continent but most particularly right here in the region," Mrs Clinton told reporters ahead of the Manama Dialogue, which is hosted by the International Institute on Security Studies in Bahrain this weekend.

Last year, talks broke down after a tentative nuclear fuel-swap deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil - non-permanent members of the Security Council - reached a stalemate.

The deal would have seen 1,200kg of low-enriched uranium shipped out of Iran for processing and returned in the form of fuel rods for a Tehran research reactor that makes isotopes used in cancer treatment. However, stalling on Iran's part scuppered the deal and the US successfully pressed for another round of UN sanctions. The US and some of its allies accuse Iran of using its civilian nuclear programme as a cover to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charges, saying its nuclear programme is merely geared towards producing electricity and medical treatments. In a speech yesterday evening, she welcomed the opportunity to negotiate in good faith with Iran, and engaging in a sincere offer of dialogue. "You (Iran) have a right to a peaceful nuclear programme, but with that right comes reasonable responsibilities," she said. "Honour your treaty, live up to the obligations of the international community." But Mrs Clinton also warned that if countries such as Iran and North Korea continued to expand their nuclear proliferation, regional security would be threatened. "[Nuclear proliferation] will spark arms races in both regions that will make both regions more dangerous," she cautioned. "It is not acceptable." The talks will take place against the backdrop of the hundreds of diplomatic cables released so far this week on the WikiLeaks website. The disclosure of the memos from American embassies around the world have led to a damage control campaign from Washington. "We have close and important relationships that will not be affected and certainly not damaged," Mrs Clinton assured her Bahraini audience, adding that Gulf states and the US share a common goal for regional stability. However, there is doubt that Iran can successfully be brought to the table amid the diplomatic fracas. Despite the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, dismissing the leaks as "psychological warfare" by the US, there is concern that real diplomatic damage has been done to an already tenuous set of talks. "These revelations came at the wrong time," said Dr Hubert Lang, the German ambassador to Bahrain. "They are not useful for creating an atmosphere where negotiations can take place." Iran's role as a destabilising force is not shared by all of the region's members. Speaking on the sidelines of the event, Pakistan's chief of general staff, Waheed Arshad Chaudhry, said: "We think Iran has a very important role to play in regional security." He cited its historical significance in regional economics and trade, adding: "We have very deep historical ties. It is not just a relationship between two governments. It is a relationship between two peoples." Mrs Clinton said the US was working hard to secure a framework for the Middle East peace process - that of a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians. "The US is working intensively to create the conditions that will permit the parties to negotiate their way forward to a final resolution," she said. In her formal address, Mrs Clinton underscored the broad range of security commitments to which the US was committed, including what she called the UAE's "cutting edge work" in developing sustainable energy with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and Masdar, the city's clean energy project. Speaking about her own ambitions, the Secretary of State said that her current job was probably her last public position and that she would, in future, return to her roots as an advocate for women. Mrs Clinton, who has repeatedly laughed off suggestions she might still want to take command of the White House, told an audience of Bahrain students that she was not contemplating a repeat run for president after losing to Barack Obama in 2008. "No, I'm not," Mrs Clinton said. "I think I'll serve as secretary of state as my last public position, and then probably go back to advocacy work, particularly on behalf of women and children."

mmetallidis@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Reuters and Agence France-Presse