The Obama administration is sending Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the Persian Gulf region this weekend to shore up relations with U.S. allies there as fears about Iran's nuclear program mount.
The State Department said Thursday that Clinton will visit the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar starting Sunday where she will hold talks with leaders focused on regional security, the Mideast peace process and development. The trip comes amid revelations in leaked U.S. diplomatic cable of deep concerns among Iran's Arab neighbors about its designs to become the region's main player and its alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons.
It will be Clinton's second trip to the Gulf in as many months. She attended an international security conference in Bahrain in early December, where she greeted but did not hold talks with then-Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.
In an apparent bid to forestall new action against it, Iran has invited the European Union and some other world powers - but not the United States - to tour nuclear sites on Jan. 15-16, ahead of a new round on international talks on the matter. Those talks are tentatively set for Istanbul, Turkey on Jan. 21-22, according to officials briefed on the plans. The U.S. has derided the Iranian move as an invitation to a "magical mystery tour" that is aimed at diverting attention from its defiance of demands to come clean on its nuclear program.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said at each stop Clinton will emphasize U.S. efforts to help civic leaders and human rights organizations gain a fuller voice in their societies.
"This engagement underscores the U.S. commitment to support civil society and promote partnerships that lead to prosperity for the people of the region," Toner said.
In Qatar, Clinton will attend the Forum for the Future, a regional conference intended to promote economic opportunity and good governance in the broader Middle East and North Africa.