The US is “not setting deadlines” for Iran and still considers negotiations as “by far the best approach” to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said late Sunday.
While Clinton said in an interview that economic sanctions are building pressure on Iran, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said last week the sanctions aren’t slowing Iran’s nuclear advances “because it doesn’t see a clear red line from the international community.”
Asked if the Obama administration will lay out sharper “red lines” for Iran or state explicitly the consequences of failing to negotiate a deal with world powers by a certain date, Clinton said, “We’re not setting deadlines.”
“We’re watching very carefully about what they do, because it’s always been more about their actions than their words,” Clinton said in the interview with Bloomberg Radio after wrapping up meetings at an Asia-Pacific forum in Vladivostok, Russia.
While the US and Israel share the goal that Iran not acquire a nuclear weapon, Clinton said there is a difference in perspective over the time horizon for talks.
“They’re more anxious about a quick response because they feel that they’re right in the bull’s-eye, so to speak,” Clinton said. “But we’re convinced that we have more time to focus on these sanctions, to do everything we can to bring Iran to a good-faith negotiation.”
IAEA meeting approaching
A high-level meeting of the United Nations’ atomic agency is just days away, and US officials have said it will be an important moment to take stock of Iran’s nuclear progress and the pressure the international community should exert to halt it. The International Atomic Energy Agency reported last month that Iran raised the uranium-enrichment capacity at its underground Fordow facility and increased stockpiles of medium- enriched uranium, a step short of nuclear-bomb material.
In the past week, Clinton has been to both China and Russia, speaking with leaders of both nations to seek unity in their Iran stance. Afterward, she said China and Russia share the US’s firm view that Iran must be stopped from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Leaders from the six powers involved in negotiations with Iran are expected to attend the annual UN General Assembly in New York this month.
“It’s a very challenging effort to get them to move in a way that complies with their international obligations,” Clinton said of the Iranians. “But we believe that is still by far the best approach to take at this time.”
Every option on the table
Asked about pressure from Israel to give Iran an ultimatum to dismantle disputed aspects of its nuclear program within months, Clinton said the US has “always said every option was on the table, but we believe in the negotiation,” and are at the same time stepping up pressure from sanctions.
Asked what Israel was telling the Obama administration behind closed doors, Clinton said, “I don’t think that there’s any difference in their public and their private concerns.”
“They feel that it would be an existential threat if Iran were a nuclear-weaponized state, and no nation can abdicate their self-defense if they feel that they’re facing such a threat,” she said.
At the same time, Clinton said Israel has supported the Obama administration’s effort to unite the international community behind the toughest sanctions ever.
“The sanctions, we know, are having an effect,” she said.
Since April, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- the US, the UK, France, China and Russia - plus Germany, have engaged in three rounds of diplomacy with Iran. Even with pressure from an array of new US and EU sanctions on energy, trade, banking and shipping, the talks have failed so far to persuade Iran to suspend aspects of its nuclear program.
Iran losing billions
Clinton has said that Iran, which depends on oil for more than half of its government revenue, is losing billions of dollars from lost oil sales due to sanctions.
Iranian oil exports dropped 66 percent in July from a year earlier, to less than 1 million barrels a day, as the US and the European Union tightened sanctions, according to a report by Rhodium Group, citing customs data. Rhodium estimates exports at about 940,000 barrels a day, compared with 1.7 million barrels a day in June and 2.8 million in July 2011, the New York-based economic research group said Sept. 5 in an e-mailed report.
The chief negotiator for the six world powers negotiating with Iran, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, last spoke with her Iranian counterpart, Saeed Jalili, more than a month ago, and said at the time more progress was needed to close the gap before any return to talks.
Over the weekend, Ashton met with EU foreign ministers in Cyprus, and said new sanctions on Iran were under consideration.