JEDDAH – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Tuesday of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East if Iran gets a nuclear weapon.
Addressing the students of Jeddah’s Dar Al-Hekma College, she said the goal is to have not only a non-nuclear Iran but also the entire region free of nuclear weapons.
“If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, that hope disappears,” she said, “because then other countries which feel threatened by Iran will say to themselves, ‘If Iran has a nuclear weapon, I better get one, too, in order to protect my people.’ “Then you have a nuclear arms race in the region,” she said.
Wrapping up a two-day visit to Saudi Arabia, Clinton became the first US Secretary of State to visit the headquarters of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).
She said her talks with OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu covered a wide range of regional and international topics of mutual interest, and would lead to further strengthening of relations between the 56-member OIC and the US.
Ihsanoglu said it was a pleasure to welcome Secretary Clinton, more so because it was the first visit of an American Secretary of State to the OIC headquarters in its history.
He stressed that the relations between the OIC and the United States, which have been developing in a positive way, have taken on a new perspective, after the speech of President Barack Obama in Cairo in June last year.
The purpose of Clinton’s visit to Dar Al-Hekma College – where she was given a rock star welcome – was “to have a dialogue with the students,” and Clinton did just that, interacting with students from schools and universities and acknowledging the symbolism of her attending such an event in a women-only college in the Kingdom, considering that her own alma mater was the women-only Wellesley College in Massachusetts.
Hailing from Effat University, King Abdulaziz University, College of Business Administration as well as a number of schools, the students made sure they could show “Madam Secretary” how well-read, articulate and intelligent they were with a school pupil getting rousing applause for asking Clinton about her stance on Iran and the lack of such pressure on Israel’s nuclear program.
Clinton replied at length, reiterating much of what she has been saying about Iran in the past few weeks but also adding that “Iran is the greatest supporter of terrorism today” to hushed silence.
The rest of the questions were directed toward her role as Secretary of State and her stance on a number of issues, including health care and she remarked a number of times that the questions were both interesting and novel.
The event began on an unfortunate note with Clinton arriving two hours later than scheduled because of an extended meeting with the OIC Secretary General Ihsanoglu, to a mildly disgruntled audience.
A group of girls from the American International School of Jeddah were even forced to leave before Clinton’s arrival by their teachers, one of whom complained to Saudi Gazette “we don’t want to go...we’ve been waiting to see her and get her autograph for days!”
Clinton confessed that she was in Dar Al-Hekma at the behest of one of her Deputy Chiefs of Staff Huma Abedin, the daughter of Dr. Saleha Abedin, the Vice Dean of Academic Affairs and founding member of Dar Al-Hekma College who spoke at length about the pioneering efforts being made by the college to collaborate with international educational organizations and programs to advance the opportunities open to Dar Al-Hekma college students and graduates.
She commented on the significance of Clinton’s visit to the college considering the numerous times she has spoken for women’s rights and education. “She’s...the first former first lady to serve as Secretary of State, in which capacity she is already called one of the best and most qualified to hold the office.”
“You’re a great inspiration and role model for women around the world,” she stated, calling education “America’s best export.”
Clinton reiterated the gesture in her speech by commenting on the benefits of studying in a women-only college.
“Women are the focus of attention and their wishes are identified and recongized and nurtured. The education you are receiving is first and foremost about acquiring skills and knowledge but also about becoming actively engaged as effective citizens in your own communities and countries and in the rest of the world,” she stated to loud applause.
Talking about King Abdullah’s extraordinary vision in making women’s education a priority, she said: “I have been in many parts of the world where education of girls is not yet occuring. I believe that educating women is the most important investment that any society can make for the interests of the people.”
She added that she wants to see more Saudi-American student exchanges, particularly with respect to American students and academics visiting the Kingdom.
Talking about “engaging with the Muslim World” she recalled how a woman she met during her visit asked her why the media – and particularly US media – often portrays a certain stereotype of Saudi women and remarked that the same is often true with popular portrayals of American women so there is a dire need to “break these stereotypes.”
She also spoke of how the world is getting younger demographically – an issue that is of utmost importance in the Kingdom – with young people needing more focus and opportunities than ever before to learn how to lead the world. In this regard, she informed the audience that President Obama is hosting a two-day summit at the White House soon on student entrepreneurship. Of the five students from Jeddah who will attend the summit, four are of from Dar Al-Hekma.
Answering questions with instinctive ease, Clinton emphasized that she loved interacting with ordinary civilians in every country she visits, and the end of the talk saw students crowd around her for autographs. Cheering and clapping with unmatched enthusiasm, the students seem to have loved every moment of the event.
Clinton sensed this and remarked that she was “extraordinarily moved by the energy and enthusiasm of the audience” and expressed hope that she would be able to visit the college again.
It is not the first time someone from President Obama’s administration has visited the college with Farah Pandith, the Special Representative to Muslim Communities for the United States Department of State, having visited the college on her visit to the Kingdom.
Clinton said she had fruitful discussions with Ihsanoglu at OIC secretariat.
“In this meeting we had detailed, open and frank discussion on different issues in the Islamic World. The relations between the OIC and the United States have been constructive and constant, going back many years,” Ihsanoglu added.
He said that the appointment of Rashad Hussain as President Obama’s special envoy to the OIC, will add further positive value to the relations between the OIC and the US.
He also welcomed the appointment of Hussain, who was officially introduced to him during Clinton’s visit to the OIC headquarters.
An OIC spokesman said in a statement, “We wish every success to the new special envoy in his endeavor to promote mutual understanding and cooperation between the Muslim World and the US.”
The spokesperson said the OIC general secretariat would extend cooperation particularly in the development and continuation of projects in the fields of health, science and technology and culture, as well as other areas.
Later, Hussain thanked Ihsanoglu for welcoming him. He said he was “honored and humbled” at his appointment.
According to Hussain, many people in the region are happy about the way Obama has addressed the issues in a sincere way.
“That is something I can attest to personally having worked with him, and is something that all of you saw in his visionary address in Cairo, which provides an unprecedented framework by which we can have a comprehensive engagement and cooperation partnership between the United States and communities all around the world,” he added.
He stressed that it was truly comprehensive in scope with all of the United States departments and agencies involved in these efforts. So are the department of labor, NASA, and the Small Business Administration.
“It is an approach, which unlike in previous times, won’t be defined simply based on one issue, based on simply the volunteerism, won’t be defined based on what Islam is not, but what Islam is, and that provides a basis for cooperation in a number of areas, including education, entrepreneurship, job creation, exchanges, health, science and technology,” he said, and added, “I look forward to working with the OIC and all the members to address all these issues”.
Asked about change, achievements, and progress during the term of his predecessor Sada Cumber, and what new ideas that he has come with, Hussain said, the biggest change, which should not be understated, is that there is an entire shift in the framework by which the US addresses these issues. For a number of years, the basis for the relationship – the basis by which other countries related to the Muslim countries, was the war on terrorism.
“As is clear from the ‘new beginning’ speech in Cairo, we now have a comprehensive basis for engagement… There are a lot of exchange programs under way, many programs in the areas of science and technology, education, health, and partnership with the OIC in the eradication of polio,” he added. – SG