(photo credit: AP)
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni flew to Beijing Saturday night amid intensified efforts to get the international community to back stepped-up economic sanctions against Iran.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, meanwhile, warned Friday of instability in the Middle East, potentially stemming from an Israeli strike, should Iran continue defying international demands to halt uranium enrichment.
Livni's three-day trip to China comes a week after a snap trip Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made to Moscow to try and get Russia's support for increased sanctions.
His meetings in Paris and London last week also focused on the Iranian issue, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown both coming out firmly in support of the need for additional sanctions.
Russia and China, however, who both hold vetoes on the UN Security Council, have said they oppose more sanctions at this time. Olmert went to China in January for meetings that also focused on the Iranian dossier.
The six main nations involved - the US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany - are scheduled to meet on the matter early next month.
The US announced on Thursday its own additional sanctions against three Iranian state-owned banks and the country's Islamic Revolutionary Guards.
Livni is to meet with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi during her visit.
She faces an uphill battle in getting the Chinese to support sanctions. In response to the US announcement of additional sanctions on Thursday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that imposing sanctions "on Iran at a time when international society and the Iranian authorities are working hard to find a solution to the Iranian nuclear issue can only complicate the issue."
According to the statement, "Dialogue and negotiations are the best approach to resolving the Iranian nuclear issue."
Livni is scheduled to return on Wednesday morning.
Rice, meanwhile, dealt with the question of a possible Israeli strike against Iran on NBC's Today Show Friday, in answer to a question by co-host Matt Lauer.
"The very fact that we're asking that question shows the instability that would arise in the Middle East if Iran doesn't face consequences for its continued defiance of the international community," she said.
When asked if she could stop Israel from taking military action, Rice declined to "speculate" on the future, instead stressing that "what the international community needs to do is to get tough, to give the diplomacy some teeth."
She said the new sanctions on the Revolutionary Guards and the three banks did just that.
"The international community cannot just sit idly by until we face unpalatable choices. A nuclear weapon in the hands of the Iranian regime would be deeply destabilizing in the world's most volatile region," she said.
However, she reaffirmed that the administration would be willing to sit down with the Iranians if they suspend their enrichment program.
As the same time, the White House rejected assertions that the new sanctions were paving the way for war.
"We're committed to a diplomatic process in dealing with Iran," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said. "We would never take options off the table, but the diplomatic process is what we want to move forward with."
Some Democratic presidential candidates, however, were quick to jump on the administration for the move - and on New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, for her stance on Iran.
"George Bush and Dick Cheney again rattled the sabers in their march toward military action against Iran," Democratic candidate John Edwards, a former North Carolina senator, said in a statement released by his campaign.
"The Bush administration has been making plans to attack Iran for many months. At this critical moment, we need strong leadership to stand against George Bush's dangerous 'preventive war' policy, which makes force the first option, not the last.
"Instead of blocking George Bush's new march to war, Sen. Clinton and others are enabling him once again," Edwards said.
Edwards and other candidates have attacked Clinton for voting in favor of a Senate resolution urging the Bush administration to designate the Guards a terrorist organization.
But Clinton also signed onto a bill proposed by Sen. Jim Webb (D-Virginia) warning the president not to take military action without going to Congress first.
She reiterated her support for that bill on Thursday, but also welcomed the new sanctions.
"We must work to check Iran's nuclear ambitions and its support of terrorism, and the sanctions announced today strengthen America's diplomatic hand in that regard," she said in a statement put out by her campaign. "The Bush administration should use this opportunity to finally engage in robust diplomacy to achieve our objective of ending Iran's nuclear weapons program, while also averting military action."