The Washington Times - July 17, 2008, 05:10PM

The road to Singapore now apparently goes through Abu Dhabi — at least for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Miss Rice is going to Singapore next week to attend the annual meeting of foreign ministers from the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). She is also expected to confer with her colleagues from the countries negotiating with North Korea regarding its nuclear programs.

Instead of taking the more logical route over the Pacific, however, she decided to go the other direction and make a stop in the United Arab Emirates‘ (UAE) capital.

Behind the State Department’s usual diplomatic explanations that the secretary will “consult” with the UAE leadership and other regional ministers, it appears that the last-minute stop will be mostly about Iran.

Gulf states are said to be seeking Washington’s assurances that their interests will be taken into consideration in any U.S. policy changes concerning Iran. Earlier this week, the Bush administration decided to send an envoy to a meeting with Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator in Geneva on Saturday in what will be the highest-level talks between the two countries in nearly three decades.

In fact, the envoy, William J. Burns, will fly to Abu Dhabi from Geneva to brief Miss Rice about the meeting on Monday.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack denied Thursday that the administration is desperately seeking a breakthrough with Iran before it leaves office in January by adopting a more conciliatory approach.

“Where we see opportunities to advance the national interests via foreign policy, we are going to take them,” he said. “We are not going to take them, though, just for the sake of the clock.”

—Nicholas Kralev, diplomatic correspondent, The Washington Times