Clinton warns of Mideast nuclear arms race

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 16, 2010; 10:01 AM

JIDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met Tuesday with female college students in Jiddah, winning a more cordial reception than did the last senior U.S. official to visit the campus.

Clinton's addressed what she called a growing threat that Iran could obtain a nuclear weapon and trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. She listed a number of recent actions by Tehran that she said violated the nation's obligation not to pursue nuclear weapons.

"You have to ask yourself, 'Why are they doing this?' " Clinton said.

Iran, meanwhile, rejected Clinton's accusation on Monday that the country was on the verge of becoming a military dictatorship.

"Those who have been the very symbol of military dictatorship over the past decades, since the Vietnam War until now, see everyone else in the same way," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said at a news conference with his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, the Associated Press reported.

Mottaki criticized Clinton's Mideast tour, which took her to Saudi Arabia on Monday, saying it was "overflowing with contradictions and incorrect actions."

Clinton's town hall meeting with students at the college, Dar Al-Hekma, was dominated by a wonky discussion of public policy issues, including the health-care debate in the United States.

There was a brief foray into politics as well, when a student asked whether the top U.S. diplomat would move to either Canada or Russia if former Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin (R) was ever elected president.

"I will not be emigrating," Clinton assured her audience. She told them that it is "part of the American political environment that people are always speculating on who will run for president . . . I've gone through that experience personally, so I'm very well acquainted with it."

Clinton steered clear of the questions about the role of women in Saudi society that often dominate U.S. perceptions of the conservative Muslim nation. Instead, she heaped praise on Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah for promoting women's education in his country.

She said she was aware of anger among Saudi women about how they are portrayed in the United States media, but noted that the public image of American women is pretty "uni-dimensional" as well.

More than four years ago, then-Undersecretary of State Karen P. Hughes caused a stir when she visited the same Saudi college and questioned the Saudi ban of women driving in the kingdom.

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