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Obama seeks talks over Iran defence

The Obama administration is seeking to advance talks among Saudi Arabia and its neighbours on a missile defence system against Iran, while slowing any plans among Arab Gulf states to intervene militarily in Syria.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton met for almost two hours with Saudi King Abdullah for talks on regional military strategy and how to increase oil sanctions against Iran, while ensuring ample global petroleum supplies.

Governments are under pressure to reduce purchases of Iranian crude, and the US hopes Saudi supplies can ease the transition.

The talks are occurring amid increased international concern over Iran's uranium enrichment activity and speculation that military action by the US or Israel may occur.

The US, Israel and some Arab countries accuse Iran of trying to build nuclear weapons, but the Islamic republic insists its programme is solely for peaceful energy and research purposes.

In Washington, president Barack Obama said he is ploughing ahead with potential sanctions against countries that keep buying oil from Iran, including US allies, in the deepening campaign to starve Iran of money for its nuclear ambitions. The world oil market is tight but deep enough to keep the squeeze on Iran, Mr Obama said.

In Mrs Clinton's meeting with King Abdullah, which included an hour when the two spoke privately without any aides present, they expressed a shared commitment to a stable international oil market, senior state department officials said.

America's top diplomat and the Saudi monarch also discussed co-ordination among the Arab Gulf states on how to unite their defensive capacities into a cohesive regional strategy. Despite sensing a shared threat from Shia power in Iran, wide technical and political divisions separate the Sunni countries, which span the oil-rich kingdoms of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to impoverished Yemen.

The United States is already planning to sell defensive missile technology to the UAE, which along with Saudi Arabia ranks among the more advanced militarily. But Washington wants the big and small Gulf governments to reconcile their distrust of each other and develop a united long-term missile defence architecture.

The talks will continue at a security conference bringing together the US and the Arab Gulf states. They will also discuss UN mediation efforts to end a year of repression by Syrian president Bashar Assad's regime.

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