ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dismissed on Sunday Israeli assessments of delays in the Iranian nuclear program and called for more work on sanctions to bring Tehran to heel.
Clinton, on a tour of Gulf Arab countries to shore up support for pressure on Iran, arrived in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. She will also visit Dubai, Oman and Qatar on the five-day trip.
Global powers are preparing for another round of talks with Iran this month over its nuclear program.
Clinton said a recent assessment by the retiring chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence service that Iran would not be able to build an atomic bomb until at least 2015 should not undercut international determination to keep the pressure on Iran through sanctions and other means to come clean about its atomic work.
“The timeline is not so important as the international effort to try to ensure that whatever the timeline, Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons,” Clinton told reporters on her plane as it arrived in Abu Dhabi.
“I don’t know that it gives much comfort to somebody who is in the Gulf, or who is in a country that Iran has vowed to destroy, that it’s a one-year or a three-year timeframe.”
Clinton did not dispute the views of Mossad’s retiring director Meir Dagan, whose comments published on Friday were interpreted as evidence of new Israeli confidence in U.S.-led sanctions and covert action designed to discourage or delay Tehran’s uranium enrichment program.
Dagan’s views echo cautions expressed both in Jerusalem and Washington about possible use of force against Iran, which denies seeking nuclear arms and has vowed to retaliate against Israel and U.S. interests for any such attack.
“I think we should keep the attention where it belongs,” Clinton said, adding that she was confident existing sanctions on Iran “have had a very significant impact.”
Western intelligence agencies say Iran could make a bomb by the middle of the decade, should it choose to enrich uranium to higher levels and master weaponization techniques.
Clinton’s Gulf visit, her second in two months, is aimed at underscoring U.S. security commitments to its allies in the oil-rich region, who are among those who feel most threatened by Iran’s nuclear plans.
The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia - along with Germany are due to hold a second round of talks with Iran in Istanbul later this month after a first set of negotiations in December produced little progress.
Secret U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks described some Gulf leaders such as Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah as privately urging Washington to take an even tougher, military approach toward Tehran.
But U.S. officials have also voiced concern over the enforcement of sanctions by some of Iran’s neighbors, who have deep trade and economic ties with the Islamic Republic.
Clinton said her message to Gulf leaders was that sanctions were working and enforcement must be improved.
“We do keep the pressure on all the time because the Iranians are always looking for a way out of the sanctions,” she said. “We expect all our partners to share that concern, as these countries certainly do.”
“We don’t want anyone to be misled by anyone’s intelligence analysis,” she said.
Clinton is expected to discuss other regional issues, ranging from security in Yemen, where al Qaeda’s regional wing is increasingly viewed as a global threat, to the new government in Iraq and faltering U.S. attempts to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the bargaining table.
Editing by Diana Abdallah