Clinton in Gulf 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
RIYADH - The United States will work with Gulf Arab nations to strengthen their shared defenses against threats including Iran, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Saturday.
Speculation about Tehran's nuclear ambitions is a source of anxiety among Sunni-led Gulf Arab states, for whom Shi'ite Iran has long been a regional rival.
"The commitment of the United States to the people and the nations of the Gulf is rock-solid and unwavering. Our strong bilateral relationships are a rock of stability in the region," Clinton said in prepared remarks delivered in the inaugural meeting of a new US-Gulf security forum.
"Now we look forward to expanding our multilateral cooperation as well," she said at the opening of the meeting with foreign ministers from the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes six Gulf countries.
Clinton said Saturday's discussions with Gulf foreign ministers would include the political change that has swept the Middle East in the past year and the violence in Syria, in addition to Iran's disputed nuclear program "and curbing its interference in the affairs of its neighbors".
Gulf Arab states have accused Iran of backing an uprising in Bahrain, and of fomenting unrest among the Shi'ite Muslim minority in mostly Sunni Saudi Arabia.
Fresh talks between Iran and world powers are expected to get underway in mid-April as Tehran faces increasing economic and political pressure over its nuclear activities.
Western diplomats and analysts say that getting Iran to stop the higher-level uranium enrichment it started two years ago and has since sharply increased will be a priority in next month's talks - the latest bid to avert the threat of Israeli air strikes on Iranian nuclear sites.
On Friday, US President Barack Obama vowed to forge ahead
with tough sanctions on Iran, saying there was enough oil in the world market to allow countries to cut Iranian imports.
A US official said that Clinton discussed Saudi Arabia's 'essential' role in maintaining strong global oil supplies during a meeting with Saudi King Abdullah on Friday.