ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Sanctions have set back Iran’s nuclear program, giving major powers more time to persuade Tehran to change tack, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday.
“The most recent analysis is that the sanctions have been working. They have made it much more difficult for Iran to pursue its nuclear ambition,” Clinton said in Abu Dhabi, where she is on an official visit.
“Iran had technological problems that have made it slow down its timetable, so we do see some problems within Iran. But the real question is how do we convince Iran that pursuing nuclear weapons will not make it safer and stronger but just the opposite ... We have time, but not a lot of time.”
Iran says its nuclear energy program is purely for peaceful purposes. Washington has said all options including military are on the table when it comes to stopping Iran going nuclear.
Analysts say Israel, known to be a nuclear power, could launch a military strike against Iranian sites in a bid to stop the program.
Clinton’s comments followed 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 — a pronouncement that some analysts said could undercut the U.S.-led drive for increasing pressure on Tehran.
They marked the first public U.S. acknowledgment that Iran’s nuclear project has been delayed.
Iran faces a range of United Nations, U.S. and European sanctions in an effort to bring an end to its enrichment activities and place its work under full supervision.
The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — along with Germany are due to meet with Iran later this month in Istanbul for a second round of talks on its nuclear program.
Clinton repeated that Iran had the right to peaceful nuclear power programs, but said the international community, and especially Iran’s neighbors, must insist that it abandon any attempt to build atomic weapons.
“If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, won’t you believe that you have to have a nuclear weapon too? I mean, it will be an arms race that will be extremely dangerous. So it’s first and foremost in the interest of the region to persuade Iran not to pursue nuclear weapons,” she said.
Clinton, who is in the Gulf seeking to urge Iran’s neighbors to step up enforcement of sanctions on Tehran, repeated that it was important to keep the limits in place and blamed Iran for encouraging the “drumbeats” of war around the region to divert attention from its nuclear work.
“I’m aware of the drumbeats and I think that those unfortunately are being created for very cynical purposes,” Clinton said, citing what she said were efforts to destabilize Lebanon and sow further discord between Israel and the Palestinians.
Gulf Arab governments share U.S. concerns that Iran could become a nuclear weapons state. They are concerned about rising Iranian influence in the region, through Tehran’s backing for Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
“I think that there is very little doubt that Iran does not want to see any kind of negotiated peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” Clinton said.
“For its own purposes it wants to keep attention off of what is a big concern for the future which is a nuclear-armed Iran,” Clinton said. “We cannot let that attention get diverted and we cannot let any outside influence cause a conflict in the Middle East which would be disastrous for everyone.”
Arab governments say that the lack of progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks aiming to set up a Palestinian state is playing into Iranian hands.
Clinton’s five-day visit to the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar is aimed in part at strengthening regional resolve over Iran as well as to encourage more Arab support for the Mideast peace effort.
Clinton, noting that the two sides were “very, very close” to peace in 2000 when her husband Bill Clinton was U.S. president, said it was time for the Israelis, the Palestinians and regional Arab governments to seize the chance again.
“”We are working all the time, literally every day, to try to build that level of confidence for each side to go ahead and make a decision,” Clinton said. “Let’s get ready now and let’s deliver a two-state solution which will be an enormous step forward not just for Israelis and Palestinians, but for the entire region.”
Editing by Andrew Hammond and Samia Nakhoul