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Clinton says US mulling ‘defense umbrella’ against Iran

The United States says it would consider establishing a “defense umbrella” in cooperation with its Persian Gulf allies should Iran refrain from abandoning its nuclear activities.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton took a shot at Iran’s nuclear program on a Thai TV program on Wednesday, talking about plans for stepped-up military aid to Arab states in the Persian Gulf to help them counter a “nuclear-armed” Iran.

“If the US extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to support the military capacity of those in the [Persian] Gulf, it is unlikely Iran will be any stronger or safer,” Clinton said.

“They won’t be able to intimidate and dominate, as they apparently believe they can once they have a nuclear weapon,” she told Thai television before heading to Asia’s largest security forum in the Thai resort island of Phuket.

The state secretary, claiming that Iran’s neighbors are the most concerned about Iran’s nuclear activities, said “the nuclear clock is ticking” and that Washington is “working to upgrade the defense of our partners in the region.”

Clinton’s remarks come as the Obama administration has so far said little, if anything, about extending a defense umbrella over the Middle East.

Senior White House adviser on Iran and the Persian Gulf region Dennis B. Ross had previously endorsed the concept of a “nuclear umbrella” in the region. Clinton, however, did not mention the term.

The State Secretary’s warning about military aid to Iran’s neighboring Arab countries comes as US President Barack Obama has vowed to engage the Islamic Republic in direct diplomacy in order to resolve the country’s nuclear dispute.

Clinton, however, went on to address the issue of engagement with Iran, saying the United States “will still hold the door open [for dialogue].”

The US and its European allies accuse the Tehran government of conducting clandestine efforts to obtain nuclear weaponry, warning of an imminent nuclear arms race in the volatile Middle East.

Iran says its nuclear activities are in line with its obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and are aimed at the civilian applications of the technology.

Earlier last week, incoming Chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Yukiya Amano said there is no conclusive evidence proving that Tehran is enriching weapons-grade uranium.

Meanwhile on Monday, a number of US lawmakers stepped up pressure on the administration of President Obama calling for new sanctions against Iran over the country’s nuclear activities.

The lawmakers introduced a bill calling for action against Tehran in case it does not accept President Obama’s offer of direct talks before a late September summit of the Group of 20 (G20), or refuses to halt uranium enrichment within 60 days after negotiations.

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