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Clinton speaks in support of Saudi women

June 22, 2011 at 7:25 AM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, June 22 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ended her silence and voiced her support for women fighting for the right to drive in Saudi Arabia.

Clinton, asked about criticism she has received for not speaking out in support of the women's campaign against the kingdom's ban, said she was moved by the women's actions, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

"What these women are doing is brave and what they are seeking is right," Clinton said in an appearance with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and their Japanese counterparts at the State Department. "I am moved by it [the campaign against the ban], and I support them."

The campaign -- carried out mainly online inside Saudi Arabia -- called on women to drive in collective protest last Friday.

On the day of the protest, Clinton discussed the matter during a phone conversation with Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, although details of their conversation weren't revealed.

State Department spokeswomen Victoria Nuland said Monday while Clinton's advocacy for women's rights is well known, there were times for "quiet diplomacy."

Clinton's not using her position as a bully pulpit drew sharp comments from the Saudi Women for Driving coalition, the Times said.

"For the United States' top diplomat to make no public statement about such developments sends exactly the wrong message to the Saudi government and, more importantly, to the women of Saudi Arabia," the group said in a statement Tuesday before Clinton voiced her support.

When she discussed the campaign, Clinton stressed the protesters were acting on their own accord and not at the bidding of the United States, saying: "It's not about what any of us on the outside say. It is about the women themselves and their right to raise their concerns with their own government."

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