As the new US-Gulf security forum wrapped up in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Iran’s time was limited to resolve its nuclear situation.
Iran and six world powers will meet in Turkey on April 13-14 for a round of fresh talks over Iran’s disputed nuclear program, as Tehran faces increasing economic and political pressure.
“It soon will be clear whether Iran’s leaders are prepared to have a serious credible discussion about their nuclear program, whether they are ready to start building the basis of a resolution to this very serious problem,” said Clinton.
“It is up to Iran’s leaders to make the right choice. We will see whether they will intend to do so, starting with the P5+1 negotiations in Istanbul… what is certain however, is that Iran’s window to seek and obtain a peaceful resolution will not remain open forever,” she continued.
The previous such meeting took place in Istanbul in January 2011, when the two sides failed even to agree on an agenda.
Speaking alongside Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal on a visit to Riyadh, Clinton confirmed earlier speculation that negotiations would resume on April 13-14.
Western diplomats and analysts say that getting Tehran to stop the higher-level uranium enrichment it started two years ago will be a priority at the April talks.
Iran says it has a sovereign right to peaceful nuclear technology and has repeatedly rejected UN resolutions calling for a suspension of all enrichment.
Earlier, Clinton said the United States will work with Gulf Arab nations to strengthen their shared defenses against threats including Iran.
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.
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.
Saudi FM: Arming Syrian opposition is a ‘duty’
The United States and Gulf nations also pressed Kofi Annan, the UN-Arab League special envoy on the conflict in Syria, to set a timeline for Syrian President Bashar Assad to adopt a new peace proposal and put an end to violence against protesters.
“Given the urgency of the joint envoy’s mission, (US and Gulf foreign ministers) urged the joint envoy to determine a timeline for next steps if the killing continues,” the United States and the Gulf Cooperation Council said in a statement following a meeting in Riyadh.
The joint communique also called on countries “with direct relations with the Syrian regime to join the international community in its efforts to solve the Syrian crisis”.
Syria has said the year-long revolt to topple Assad is over, but that it will keep its forces in cities to ‘maintain security’ until it is safe to withdraw in keeping with Annan’s plan.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal renewed calls to arm the Syrian opposition, describing it as a “duty.”
“The arming of the opposition is a duty, I think, because it cannot defend itself except with weapons,” Faisal said during a joint news conference with Clinton.
A spokesman for Free Syrian Army commanders inside Syria said Saturday that Syrian rebels are ready to stop fighting the moment the Syrian army withdraws its tanks, artillery and heavy weapons from opposition areas.
“We cannot accept the presence of tanks and troops in armored vehicles among the people. We don’t have a problem with the ceasefire. As soon as they remove their armored vehicles, the Free Syrian Army will not fire a single shot,” Lieutenant Colonel Qassim Saad al-Din told Reuters by telephone from Homs.
A rebel officer in Damascus said separately: “When (President Bashar) Assad’s gangs stop the shelling and killing of civilians, then our leaders can issue an order to stop operations and we will commit to it to show our good intentions.”
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