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Wed 6 Feb 2008 05:17 PM

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Gulf backs Obama in race for White House

More than half of respondents to latest survey favour Democrat Illinois senator over Clinton.

Barack Obama is the clear favourite of observers in the Gulf to win the presidential nomination for the Democratic party, with more than half of respondents to the latest ArabianBusiness.com survey preferring the Illinois senator over Hillary Clinton.

The whole Middle East has one eye firmly fixed on the US presidential race, the result of which will have huge implications for the region.

Iran, the war in Iraq, the Middle East peace process and soaring oil prices are all key campaign issues that tie the future of the region to outcome of the November 4 president vote.

John McCain won the Republican primary in California and in enough other states to gain a clear lead in his party's nomination race, but it is the fight between Clinton and Obama that has really caught the attention of observers in the region.

Just over 50% of those surveyed by ArabianBusiness.com said Obama would be the best president for the Middle East, stating he was "something new, and offers a clean break from the past".

Obama, 46, has consistently campaigned as the "anti-war" candidate and has promised to bring US troops in Iraq home as soon as possible.

He was still a state senator when the US Congress voted to go to war with Iraq in 2002 and therefore did not vote.

On Iran, Obama has said that he would not hesitate to use military force “unilaterally if necessary” if the Islamic republic refuses to comply with UN sanctions, but, unlike Clinton, has ruled out the use of nuclear weapons in any such attack.

Obama is seen by many as the most sympathetic to the Palestinians of all the candidates, blaming militant group Hamas for stalling the Middle East peace process.

However, he has also campaigned as a staunch supporter of Israel, calling it “our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy”.

Only 26.5% of respondents voted for Clinton, saying she was "experienced, and considerably more versed in Middle East issues".

Clinton, 60, senator for the state of New York, voted for the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Although Clinton issued an appeal to Congress in 2007 to repeal the authorisation to invade Iraq, she voted for each one of President Bush’s supplementary military appropriations on both battlefronts.

Clinton has since revised her position and said that upon election she would “convene the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of defence and the National Security Council and direct them to draw up a clear, viable plan to bring our troops home, starting within the first 60 days of my administration”.

But she too has also campaigned as a staunch ally of Israel, and is seen by most as even more hawkish on Iran than Bush.

The remaining 22.4% of respondents said neither would be better for the Middle East.

Arabian Business: why we're going behind a paywall