By Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 9, 2011; 5:51 PM
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in the Middle East for meetings with Persian Gulf leaders, acknowledged Sunday that it would take years to undo the damage caused by the WikiLeaks revelations, likening her recent travels to an extended "apology tour" to reassure allies who suffered embarrassment or worse because of the disclosures.
"I think I will be answering concerns about WikiLeaks for the rest of my life, not just the rest of my tenure as secretary of State," Clinton told reporters as she embarked on a five-day visit of Arab countries, many of which were stung by revelations about private talks between American diplomats and regional leaders.
Clinton, who is on her second Middle East trip in less than a month, said she has sought to "affirmatively raise" the WikiLeaks issue in meetings with Arab officials to address the problems head-on. Some of Iran's Arab neighbors were particularly aggrieved by leaked State Department cables that showed them privately urging the Obama administration to take a harder line against Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Clinton said she had quipped to one of her aides that she needed a tour jacket, similar to the ones used by rock bands, that would have a "big picture of the world and would say 'The Apology Tour' " on it. Although the intensity has abated somewhat, the fallout from the WikiLeaks affair "is still in the atmosphere," she said.
Separately, Clinton appeared to downplay recent statements by Israeli officials that seemed to suggest that Iran may not be as close to a nuclear-weapons breakthrough as had been widely feared. Noting Iran's recent technical stumbles in attempting to enrich uranium, a prominent Israeli intelligence official suggested it would take Iran at least three more years to build the bomb, compared with earlier estimates of one or two years.
"The timeline is not so important as the international effort to try to ensure that, whatever the timeline, Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons," Clinton said. "I don't know that it gives much comfort to someone who is living in the Gulf - or living in a country that Iran has vowed to destroy - that it is one year or three years."
Clinton said the Obama administration remained committed to an "intensive international effort . . . highlighted by sanctions" to persuade Iran to change its course.