JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told an audience of Saudi college women on Tuesday that it is the shared responsibility of Iran's neighbors to ensure it does not get nuclear weapons.
Her blunt message about avoiding a nuclear arms race that Saudi Arabia might join was meant for a wider audience but its delivery by one of the West's best-known professional women made a more subtle point.
Clinton ticked off a list of Iranian actions that she said violated its obligation not to pursue nuclear weapons, including construction of the Qom enrichment facility that came to light last fall.
"You have to ask yourself, 'Why are they doing this?' " she said.
Noting that Iran insists it is not pursuing the bomb, Clinton said, "The evidence doesn't support that."
"Everyone who I speak with in the gulf, including the leaders here and leaders elsewhere in the region, are expressing deep concern about Iran's intentions," she said.
The approximately 500 students at an all-woman college in Jeddah called Dar al-Hekma, which translates in English to "House of Wisdom," were all dressed in long black abayas. Some wore blue jeans underneath. Several dozen men also attended the address by invitation.
Her appearance at the college was highly unusual in a conservative Muslim nation.
The students cheered heartily when Clinton entered the auditorium, even though she had kept them waiting for more than an hour. Some got up to leave during the long wait, which prompted a school official to take a microphone and plead for all to remain, saying this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see in person "the most powerful, most popular" woman in the world. Most stayed.
One greeted Clinton with a poem for the occasion.
"I speak for the women who are empowered in their nation to tell you that you have been a source of inspiration," the young woman said in English.
"The simple fact that you are here, body and soul, today shows that your support stretches from thousands of miles away."
Clinton's departure from Saudi Arabia was delayed for hours by mechanical trouble with her government jet. She planned to catch a ride to Washington aboard another jet carrying Gen. David Petraeus, who oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East as commander of U.S. Central Command. Petraeus was nearby, in the Saudi capital of Riyadh.