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Clinton says US is prepared to arm Iran's neighbours

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the United States is still open to holding talks with Iran but that tougher measures, such as arming Tehran's neighbours to build a regional "defence umbrella", are also in the works.

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The United States “still holds the door open” to talks with Iran but is ready to take “crippling action” and bolster their regional partner’s defence systems if Tehran does not back down over its nuclear programme, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday.

Speaking to Thai television in Bangkok ahead of a summit between the US and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Clinton warned that the “nuclear clock is ticking.”

"We want Iran to calculate what I think is a fair assessment ... that if the US extends a defence umbrella over the region, if we do even more to support the military capacity of those in the Gulf, it's unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer because they won't be able to intimidate and dominate as they apparently believe they can once they have a nuclear weapon", she said.

Clinton made the comments before heading to Asia's largest security summit in the Thai resort island of Phuket to attend Asia's biggest annual security meeting. Talks on Phuket are expected to focus on possible nuclear links between North Korea and Burma.

Last week, Clinton launched a first salvo of condemnations against Iran, warning that Washington’s offer of direct talks with Tehran was not open-ended.

Both Clinton and US President Barack Obama have departed from the previous administration’s policy of refusing to engage in talks with Iran directly until it had met certain preconditions, including suspending uranium enrichment, but so far Iran has not responded to Obama’s overtures despite the policy shift. Diplomats suspect Iran of simply buying time so it can continue to pursue sensitive nuclear work the West believes is aimed at building a bomb.

Iran rejects charges that it seeks nuclear weapons, arguing that it is developing its capacity purely for civilian energy purposes.

On Monday, US lawmakers stepped up pressure on Obama to ready tough new economic sanctions on Iran in the event Tehran fails to cooperate and freeze its’ suspected nuclear programme by late 2009.

Major world powers agreed at a recent summit in Italy that they would assess Iran’s nuclear ambitions and cooperation at the upcoming G20 summit, scheduled for late September in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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