RIYADH, March 31 (BSS/AFP) - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton geared up for talks in Saudi Arabia on Saturday about plans for a Gulf missile shield against Iran and ways to press Tehran's ally Syria to stop killing Syrians.
After meeting King Abdullah and other Saudis in Riyadh on
Friday, Clinton was to consult with her counterparts from Saudi
Arabia and its five Gulf Arab neighbors, all of them US allies.
Not only does Washington suspect Iran of funnelling weapons
to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to crush anti-government
protests, it also fears Iran is both a potential nuclear weapons
and missile threat to countries in the region.
Raising security ties from a bilateral to a regional level,
Clinton is breaking new ground here as she will join the first
strategic cooperation forum between the United States and the
six-country Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
"We're looking to develop a regional missile defence
architecture," a senior US State Department official told
reporters traveling from Washington to Riyadh, adding the issue
will likely come up in the GCC talks.
"No one nation can protect itself. It needs to rely on its
partners in order to have an effective missile defence system,"
the official said on condition of anonymity.
Iran, he said, "is clearly one of the most significant
threats that these nations face in the region," and he described
a missile defence system as a "priority for our partnership with
the GCC countries."
The Sunni Muslim-led Gulf Arab states are extremely wary of
non- Arab Shiite Muslim Iran. In Clinton's talks with King
Abdullah, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal and
others, the two sides discussed ways to tighten the sanctions on
Iran over its nuclear program, another State Department official
"They talked about keeping the global oil supply strong, and
the essential role Saudi Arabia plays in that," the official
The world's largest oil producer faces Western appeals to
boost output to make up for shortfalls when European countries
are due to stop importing Iranian oil in June as part of tougher
sanctions agreed in recent months.
Officials said Clinton also briefed the Saudis on a
diplomatic opening with Iran, which said it expects to resume
talks on April 13 over its nuclear program with the United
States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.
Western countries fear Iran's uranium enrichment program
conceals plans to build a nuclear bomb, but Tehran insists it is
only for peaceful purposes.
Clinton also discussed with the Saudis international efforts
to send more humanitarian aid into Syria, and support opposition
efforts to present a united and inclusive political vision for
They also discussed tightening the array of US, European,
Canadian, Arab and Turkish sanctions on Syria, and making sure
that countries follow through on their commitments to fully
impose the measures.
One official said the US and Saudi sides also discussed
"reform in the kingdom, including the role of women," tackling
issues that have been at the heart of the protest movements
sweeping other Arab countries since last year.
US officials expected the GCC countries to discuss
preparations for the Friends of Syria meeting in Istanbul on
Sunday which is expected to draw ministers from dozens of Arab
and Western countries.
But there are differences over how to help the Syrian people
in their bid for democracy.
Saudi Arabia and its neighbour Qatar have called for arming
the opposition, which includes the Free Syrian Army, made up of
Syrian military defectors.
An Arab league summit in Baghdad on Thursday rejected the
option of arming any side, and called on all parties to engage in
a "serious national dialogue."
The United States and Turkey have agreed on the need to
provide communications and other non-lethal aid to the