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Hillary Clinton's Middle East tour: It's all about Iran

Adm. Mike Mullen and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton kicked off an eight-nation swing Sunday through the Middle East. The focus of the trip? Iran's nuclear ambitions.

By Nancy A. YoussefMcClatchy Newspapers / February 14, 2010

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, meets the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Qatar Sheik Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor Al Thani, at Emiri Divan, in Doha the capital of state of Qatar, Sunday.

Maneesh Bakshi/AP

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Cairo, Egypt

The top U.S. military officer, Adm. Mike Mullen, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton kicked off a series of visits throughout the Middle East Sunday, reaching out to the Arab world as the Obama administration pushes for tougher sanctions against Iran and its nuclear ambitions.

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The missions by top military and diplomatic officials to at least eight nations of the Middle East reflect the latest efforts to find a solution to the Iranian nuclear problem, which has the prospect to destabilize the volatile region with a nuclear arms race among archenemies.

Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met Sunday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and later in Tel Aviv with top Israeli military officers. Iran was a "principal topic" of discussion in Egypt, Mullen said afterwards in an interview with McClatchy Newspapers in Cairo. He added that he expects Iran will be the focus of his talks with officials in Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also is set to hold meetings in Qatar and Saudi Arabia during her three-day visit to the region. Aides traveling with her have said Iran will lead the agenda. Top State Department deputies will travel in the days ahead to Israel, Jordan, Syria and Egypt.

In a speech Sunday a the US-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar, Clinton warned that the evidence was "accumulating" that Iran was pursing nuclear weapons. She also said the ongoing diplomatic press was designed to "figure out a way" to handle Iran's nuclear ambitions peaceably.

As Mullen arrived in Israel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set out on a three-day visit to Moscow later Sunday. Netanyahu said he was seeking Moscow's support for "crippling sanctions" against Iran.