The US State
Department on Monday said setting red lines on the Iranian nuclear
program is not useful, following Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's
statement Sunday that Washington is "not setting deadlines."
US President Barack Obama's pledge not to allow Iran to obtain nuclear
weapons, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland reiterated, "We
are absolutely firm about the president's commitment here, but it is not
useful to be parsing it, to be setting deadlines one way or the other,
Washington places precedence on applying pressure on
Tehran and engaging it diplomatically, all the while conducting
"intensive consultations with Israel," she added.
In Jerusalem, one senior government official said Monday that Clinton's comment on not setting deadlines for Iran could have the effect of putting the Islamic Republic at ease, a sign of heightened tension between Jerusalem and Washington over the Iranian nuclear issue.
"Without a clear red line Iran will not cease its race toward a nuclear weapon," the official said, breaking Jerusalem's day-long silence on Clinton's comments in an interview with Bloomberg Radio Sunday evening.
"These sorts of statements will not stop Iran's centrifuges from spinning, unfortunately the opposite could be true," the official said. "This won't deter Iran, but could put it at ease."
Clinton raised eyebrows in Jerusalem by saying the US was “not setting deadlines” for Iran and still considered negotiations as “by far the best approach” to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Her words came within hours of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu telling the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that Jerusalem and the US were discussing what kind of "red lines" needed to be drawn to keep Iran from pursuing its nuclear program.
"I think what is important to realize is that Iran will not stop unless it sees clear determination by the democratic countries of the world and a clear red line," he said. "I don’t think that they see a clear red line, and I think the sooner we establish one, the greater the chances that there won’t be a need for other types of action."
Netanyahu, who has carefully avoided spelling out what exactly he means by "red lines," said they could be "a clear delineation of a line which Iran cannot cross in its pursuit of the development of nuclear weapons capability. If Iran saw that, there’s a chance, I won’t say it’s guaranteed, but there’s a chance they might pause before they cross that line."
Clinton, asked if the Obama administration would 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, 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,” she said.
While Netanyahu has never explicitly asked for the US to set a deadline, and indeed his red lines have been interpreted widely as benchmarks so the Iranians know that if they take certain actions, they will face a pre-determined response, the reaction from the government official in Jerusalem was a sign of continuing deep frustration with the Obama Administration's approach.
This frustration came to a head last month when Netanyahu got into a sharp diplomatic exchange with US Ambassador Dan Shapiro over the issue during a meeting with visiting Congressman Mike Rogers. Rogers said last week that he walked out of the meeting feeling that Israel was at "wit's end" over the issue.
Monday's reaction was similar to a pointed reaction by officials in Jerusalem following a comment earlier this month by US General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, saying that he would not want to be complicit in an Israeli attack.
One official termed that comment "strange" and said it contradicted the White House's continual statements that security and defense cooperation between the two countries has never been closer.
Clinton, in her interview, said there were clear differences between Israel and the US regarding the timeline 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,” she 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.”
She said the sanctions "are having an effect.”
Clinton indicated that the world powers involved in negotiating with Iran – the US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany – will be meeting over the next month to "take stock of where we are.”
“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.”
Clinton acknowledged that Israel felt an Iran with nuclear weapons posed an existential thereat, and said "no nation can abdicate their self-defense if they feel that they’re facing such a threat.”
In a related development, Netanyahu met for 90 minutes Monday with President Shimon Peres, the first time the two have met since Peres said three weeks ago in a television interview that Israel should not attack Iran without US support. Those comments elicited angry responses from sources close to the Prime Minister, who said Peres had overstepped his bounds.
Bloomberg contributed to this report