Clinton visits Dar Al-Hikma College for Females in Jeddah

Clinton: Region worried about Iran’s intentions, sanctions to be issued if Iran failed to make u-turn

Lieberman gets ready to dismantle Netanyahu govt. in October, says settlement over lands is fantasy

Assad holds talks with William Burns on march of cooperation with U.S., peace

Sultan Qaboos discusses region’s developments with Feltman

President of French Senate says Lebanon has right to defend its lands

Russia delays delivery of S-300 missiles

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, held a meeting with the commander of U.S. Central Command, Gen. David Petraeus.

During the meeting, a number of issues of common interest was reviewed.

The meeting was attended by Prince Miqren bin Abdulaziz, Chief of General Intelligence; Prince Khalid bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, Assistant Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector General for Military Affairs; Saudi Ambassador to U.S., Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir; Deputy U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dr. Suzan Ziyadh and the accompanying delegation's members.

Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, the Governor of Makkah region, received US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

During the reception, they reviewed issues of mutual interests.

The meeting was attended by Under Secretary of Makkah region's governorate Dr. Abdulaziz al-Khideiri and Director General of Prince Khalid's office Dr. Okab Al-Liweihiq as well as US ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia James Smith.

Meanwhile, Secretary Clinton paid a get-acquainted visit to the Jeddah-based Dar Al-Hikma College for Females. She was received by Ambassador Ahmed Al-Tayeb, Director of the Foreign Ministry's Jeddah branch, Zuhair Hamid, Chairman of the Council of Trustees of the college and Dr. Suhair Al-Qurashi, Dean of the College.

A speech ceremony was held to mark the occasion. In a key address, Dr. Al-Qurashi welcomed Clinton, considering her visit a chance to exchange views with the female students of the college. She reminded that the opening ceremony of this college was honored by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosque King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who, she said, extends unlimited support for women education in the Kingdom and much concerned with science and scientists.

For her part, Clinton expressed pleasure to visit Dar Al-Hikma College for females, thanking Princess Lulua Al-Faisal for her interest in women's education. She also lauded the interest of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosque King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in education in general and females education in particular, citing the recent opening of the Riyadh-based Nura bint Abdulrahman University for Females. 'I have visited so many countries but I did not find such interest to promote females education as in Saudi Arabia', she admitted, describing the drive as an important investment for any society to enhance understanding, values and national interests.

On her recent official visit to the Kingdom, Clinton said she discussed with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and government officials the issue of educational exchange, noting that the two sides have overcome the derailing obstacle caused by September 11 events to reach the same level of educational exchanges before September attacks, thanks to friendly ties and discussions, hoping to see more increase in the level of Saudi students on scholarships to the United States.

She emphasized that the U.S. seeks to meet the call of President Barack Obama to kick off a new era between the Untied States and this region's countries based on mutual respect, confidence and interests.

Clinton lauded the talks she held with several academics, citizens and technocrats in the Kingdom. She also underscored the importance of establishing more companies that enhance civil society and contribute to the service of the society.

She said among the most prominent Obama agenda is that he will host in April 2010 a meeting for entrepreneurs who will come from 50 countries, including five Saudi students, four of them belong to Dar Al-Hikma College.

She said the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have a long list of shared challenges they have to face and overcome, noting to the strong partnership with the GCC countries in this regard.

'We share facing tough times and circumstances while dealing with stereotyped schemes and misunderstanding which oblige us all to open our minds and hearts to confront the terrorist networks with all firmness and toughness', the U.S. Secretary of State stated.

She said the world needs to be free of nuclear weapons, a matter that takes a long time to become a reality.

She explained that all countries, including Iran, who signed and negotiated agreements on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons have agreed that they ought to protect humanity from this dangerous arms being used or fallen in the hands of countries like Iran who seeks to obtain it.

Nuclear weapon holders also reassured that they would not let the devastating arms fall in the hands of terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda who also tried to manufacture nuclear weapons, she added.

She said all the region's countries are worried about Iran's intentions as Iran has threatened the states of the region and financed terrorists who launched hostilities against other countries. She described Iran as the most terrorist state in the world of today.

Clinton said the U.S. joined Russia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom to deal with Iran, noting that the Middle Eastern country has the right to acquire peaceful nuclear program to produce nuclear energy for electricity and other peaceful civil energies but never seek to obtain nuclear weapons, according to agreements signed by Iran and other countries.

She said those countries offered Iran the go-ahead to use very low grade enriched uranium to produce medical active isotopes and promised to help it to reach this goal. Iran agreed to the offer before rejected it later, she added.

Clinton said Iranians say their program is for peaceful purposes but all evidences show the contrary. We are going to continue with the Iranian government and people to convince them give up their nuclear weapons program and, instead, proceed with their right in peaceful nuclear program, she said, adding that, otherwise, the U.S. and the rest of the world community will seek sanctions against Iran to force them change their intentions.

The last element in this chapter is not only that the world should become free of nuclear weapons, but also the Middle East. However, had Iran obtained the nuclear weapons, this hope would fade away as other countries would feel threatened by Iran and, for their part, would seek to obtain the weapons to protect their peoples, leading to arms race in the region and, accordingly, serious problems, she added.

Clinton stated that this scenario is not in the interest of Iran and the entire world.

She praised the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques peace initiative in the Middle East, adopted by the Arab countries and a number of Islamic countries, to push the peace process ahead. We have talked on this matter with the monarch and a number of Palestinian and Israeli officials to get the two back to negotiation table, noting that the peace initiative would be a very important element in this effort for achieving successful results.

She concluded that the United States could not force any party to adhere to an agreement he was not committed to and that it would, instead, use every influence and ways to push the two sides to achieve the two-state solution.

Clinton also visited the headquarters of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) in Jeddah within the framework of her current visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

She held a closed-door session with OIC Secretary General Professor Prof. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu.

Following the meeting, Hillary Clinton said she held wide-ranging talks with Ihsanoglu. 'They have agreed on a future plan pertaining to the joint works between the OIC and the United States.

She said her visit to the OIC was in line with the directives of US President Barack Obama for enhancing cooperation between the OIC and the U.S.

On his part, Prof. Ihsanoglu described as 'a positive development' the visit of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the OIC headquarters.

Prof. Ihsanoglu said his talks with Hillary Clinton focused on a number of Islamic issues including an in-depth review of the importance of activating cooperation between the OIC and the US.

'Hillary Clinton has shown a great attention to the problems of the Muslim world, and her visit to OIC headquarters is viewed as a historical visit, and will open new horizons for cooperation and rapprochement between the Muslim world and the US,' the OIC Secretary General elaborated.

On the other hand, a group of Arab MPs have embarked on a tour of the Gaza Strip to show solidarity with its people and help end the rift between rival Palestinian factions.

The delegation from the Arab Parliamentary Union is comprised of 22 deputies from Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Morocco, Algeria, Qatar, Bahrain, Lebanon, Sudan, Kuwait, and Oman.

"We came to represent the Arab parliaments and the Arab nation. We came, 22 deputies who represent the Arab nation from the Atlantic Ocean to the [Persian] Gulf as a united nation," the group said in a declaration upon arriving via the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing on Monday.

The Arab lawmakers highlighted the significance of unity among the Palestinians for achieving the "nation's aim of establishing an independent Palestinian state." "We want the Palestinian people to be united, as no party ever defeated its enemy when it was divided," they urged.

Prominent Omani MP Salem Bin Ali al-Kabi, who is leading the delegation expressed "great optimism about Palestinian reconciliation," given the increasing hopes that Hamas will sign an Egyptian-brokered reconciliation deal.

The visit comes amid signs of a breakdown in the three-year-old standoff between the Islamic Hamas movement and the rival Fatah party, following a rare visit by senior Fatah leader Nabil Sha'ath who met with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and other Gaza-based officials.

On Sunday, representatives from 13 Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Fatah, held talks in Gaza to underline their commitment to end internal strife.

Palestinian civil rights groups hailed the delegation's visit as a show of "support for Palestinian steadfastness in the face of Israeli intransigence, the tightening of the blockade, the closure of the crossings, and the ban on the entry of construction materials and all requirements for a decent life."

During the two-day tour, the Arab deputies are scheduled to meet with Palestinian politicians as well as the families of those affected by Israel's last year's offensive against Gaza.

The 22-day onslaught left more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians, dead and devastated a large part of the infrastructure of the impoverished area, which has been under Israeli siege since 2007.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has scorched the idea of territorial concessions in a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority (PA) while questioning the credibility and clout of PA's acting chief.

The hawkish Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in an address to the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) that it was not clear “who does the Palestinian Authority represent? [Acting PA Chief] Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] does not represent Gaza because Hamas rules there,” Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post reported.

“…since [Hamas] won elections three times, it isn't at all clear who [Abbas] represents. It isn't clear if he is capable of coming up with the goods in negotiations,” he added.

He blamed the PA for the damning international attitude vis-à-vis Tel Aviv, as well as leading a global 'smear campaign' against the regime.

He said the Palestinian Authority would fund and lodge "most of the appeals against senior commanders around the world” after a British court issued an arrest warrant for his predecessor, Tzipi Livni, for “war crimes” committed in the course of the Israeli massacre of Palestinians during Tel Aviv's December 2008's massive offensive in Gaza.

Several Israeli officials have canceled their visits to Britain to avoid possible arrest over the carnage, which left more than 1,400 Palestinians dead.

In Damascus, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad held security talks on Wednesday with America's highest-ranking career diplomat, a day after President Barack Obama pledged to reappoint an ambassador to Syria after a five-year absence.

Under Secretary of State William Burns, the architect of a deal that helped rehabilitate Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi, met with Assad along with Daniel Benjamin, a senior U.S. counter-terrorism official.

"I have no illusions about the challenges," Burns said after seeing the president. "But my meeting with President Assad made me hopeful that we can make progress together in the interest of both of our countries," Burns added.

Benjamin, Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the Department of State, will stay in Syria on Thursday for a day of talks with Syrian officials after Burns departs. The intention was "to deepen our dialogue as we move forward," Burns said.

Under Obama, the United States started talking to Syria's government, in contrast to a policy of isolation under former President George W. Bush.

The United States withdrew its ambassador from Damascus in 2005 after the assassination in Beirut of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Syria's foes in Lebanon accused Damascus of involvement, a charge Syria denied.

Syria announced that year that it had stopped cooperation with the United States on what it describes as terrorism suspects following U.S. criticism of Syria's role in Iraq.

But Syrian officials met twice last year with a U.S. security delegation in Damascus, although Syria is on the U.S. "sponsors of terrorism" list and has good ties with Iran.

The United States wants Syria to stop infiltration of militants to Iraq through the Syrian border, an issue that caused relations to deteriorate until Obama took office.

Washington also wants Syria to rein in members of the Iraqi Baath Party who fled to Syria and are accused by the U.S.-backed Iraqi government of encouraging violence in Iraq.

Relations between Washington and Damascus have improved since Obama took office 13 months ago. Diplomats say Washington is hoping to pull Syria away from Iran and get its help in stabilizing neighboring Iraq.

Nevertheless Obama renewed sanctions against Syria last May, accusing it of supporting terrorism, pursuing weapons of mass destruction and destabilizing Iraq, with which it shares a long, porous border that has been a conduit for al Qaeda fighters.

Syria and Iran are the main backers of the Palestinian Islamist Hamas and Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim political and guerrilla group in Lebanon that fought a war against Israel in 2006. "There is heightened U.S. nervousness about the Hezbollah weapons issue," one diplomat in the Syrian capital said.

Washington has muted its criticism of Syria's authoritarian system and the nomination of Robert Ford as ambassador to Damascus was seen as a major step in improving ties.

Burns said the nomination of Ford, who still has to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, signaled "America's readiness to improve relations and to cooperate in the pursuit of just, lasting and comprehensive peace between Arabs and Israelis."

Syrian and Lebanese media have been reporting for weeks that Obama intended to appoint Ford.

Now deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, he previously served as ambassador to Algeria from 2006 to 2008 and deputy chief of mission in Bahrain between 2001 and 2004.

A pro-government Syrian paper said last week that Damascus had approved a U.S. request to reappoint its ambassador.

In Muscat, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman gave an audience to Jeffrey Feltman, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, at Bait al Baraka.

During the audience, a number of aspects of joint co-operation between the two friendly countries were reviewed.

The audience was attended by Sayyid Badr bin Hamad al Busaidy, Secretary-General of the Foreign Ministry, and Richard Joseph Schmierer, US Ambassador to the Sultanate.

In Beirut, French Senate President Gérard Larcher visited on Sunday the tomb of assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and left flowers, according to the National News Agency (NNA).

The report added that Larcher met Sunday with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir in Bkirki.

According to the NNA, Larcher arrived in Beirut on Sunday for a four-day official visit, upon Speaker Nabih Berri’s invitation.

Larcher and his accompanying delegation were received at Beirut Rafik Hariri International Airport by Head of the Foreign Affairs Commission MP Abdel Latif Zein, Head of Human Rights Commission MP Michel Moussa, Lebanese Ambassador to France Boutros Assaker, French Ambassador to Lebanon Denis Pietton and embassy staff.

Larcher is expected to meet with Berri on Monday in his Ain al-Tineh residence, with the two expected to hold talks on enhancing bilateral relations between both countries’ parliaments.

He also is expected to meet with Lebanese President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister Saad Hariri and other leading political and religious figures, the NNA reported.

In Moscow, Russia raised Western hopes that it will support tougher international sanctions against Iran’s nuclear programme by announcing a delay in delivery of S-300 advanced air defence missiles.

The postponement for unspecified “technical problems” was made public a day after Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, urged Russia to support “crippling” sanctions against Tehran during a visit to Moscow.

The United States and Israel have been pressing Russia not to deliver the S-300 missiles, which would make a successful military strike much more difficult if diplomacy failed to resolve the stand-off over Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Iran insists that its atomic programme is peaceful but an announcement last week that it had begun to upgrade uranium from 3.5 per cent to 20 per cent enrichment has intensified suspicions that President Ahmadinejad is intent on building a nuclear bomb.

A weapon would require 90 per cent enrichment, but experts fear that enrichment to 20 per cent would put Iran on the verge of nuclear breakout. One American official told The Times that the early stages of the process were the hardest, adding: “If you get to 20 per cent you are 90 per cent of the way to 90 per cent.”

President Medvedev’s spokeswoman said after his talks with Mr Netanyahu that Iran had to convince the international community that its nuclear programme was peaceful, adding: “In case these commitments are not fulfilled, no one can rule out the use of sanctions.”

Russia signed a contract in December 2005 to sell at least five S-300 systems to Iran. The mobile missile defence batteries have a range of up to 150 kilometres and can intercept low-flying attack aircraft and ballistic missiles. The Kremlin has insisted repeatedly that the $800 million (£507 million) contract will be fulfilled, but Iran has grown frustrated at Russia’s failure to deliver.

The Foreign Ministry in Tehran has warned that failure to honour the contract would “leave a negative imprint in the memory of the Iranian public”. Iran also claimed to be developing an air-defence system of its own that would be superior to the S-300.

Moscow gave no indication of when the latest problems would be ironed out. Alexander Fomin, deputy head of Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, said: “The delay is due to technical problems.

The delivery will be carried out when they are resolved.”

Western diplomats in Moscow are increasingly confident that Russia has softened its opposition to further sanctions against Iran. The United States has said it intends to go to the United Nations later this month to press for new measures.

There were suggestions that the Kremlin may have agreed to block the S-300 sale to Iran in exchange for Israeli willingness to halt arms sales to Georgia, which fought a war with Russia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia in 2008. Israel sold unmanned reconnaissance drones to Georgia and helped train its military before the conflict.

Mr Netanyahu did not deny a link in an interview with Kommersant newspaper. He said: “Whenever it comes to arms sales, we always take into account the concerns of all sides and we expect Russia to do the same - to act in the interest of stability in unstable regions.”

Russia is building Iran’s first atomic power station at Bushehr, but relations between the two countries have become strained recently and a visit to Moscow by Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator was postponed indefinitely last month. Russia joined the US and France on Tuesday in condemning Iran’s decision to boost enrichment.