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U.S. urges continued pressure on Iran

Visiting Persian Gulf states, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says revised estimates of Iran's ability to build a bomb should not mean easing sanctions and other efforts.

January 09, 2011|By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Sunday that there is growing evidence that Iran has suffered a setback in its suspected nuclear weapons program, but insisted that world powers must continuing tightening their economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Clinton, arriving here for a four-day visit to the Persian Gulf, said Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program will remain a threat to nations in the Middle East and elsewhere even if setbacks prevent it from acquiring bomb-making ability for several years.

"The timeline is not so important as the international effort to try to ensure that, whatever the timeline, Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons," she told reporters aboard her plane. "I don't know that it gives much comfort to somebody who is in the gulf, or is in a country that Iran has vowed to destroy, that it's a one-year or three-year time frame."

Israeli officials, who have long warned that Iran could very soon attain nuclear bomb-building capability, have in recent days changed position, saying that they believe that a bomb may be five years off, in part because of foreign attempts to sabotage the program. The Israeli shift is being viewed in some quarters as reflecting a potential turning point in Iran's alleged quest for a nuclear weapon. Iran has denied it is pursuing nuclear weapons and says its program is intended for energy production.

On Thursday, the outgoing chief of the Mossad intelligence agency, Meir Dagan, told Israeli reporters that the Iranians couldn't build a bomb before 2015 at the earliest, in part because of "measures that have been deployed against them."

He didn't specify what those measures were, but there have been widespread reports that the program has been damaged by a computer virus probably launched by a foreign government.

The unexpected Israeli assessments have raised questions about whether the United States and allies would now ease up on their sanctions, or shift their strategy in some other way. On Friday, a senior Obama administration official said in interview that "we don't dispute" foreign intelligence agencies' assessments that the program has been delayed, though he declined to discuss the reasons for the setbacks.

Clinton noted that six world powers are planning to meet with Iran on Jan. 20 in Istanbul, Turkey, to again try to persuade Tehran to negotiate over the nuclear program.

She hinted that the United States wants Persian Gulf states, which are key trading partners of Iran, to do more to restrict trade as the sanctions prescribe.

"This remains a serious concern and we expect all of our partners who share that concern … to stay as focused as they can, and to do everything within reason that will help to implement these sanctions," she said.

Clinton is meeting with leaders of the United Arab Emirates, including Dubai, and Qatar this week. She said she will be discussing the Iranian nuclear issue and efforts to reach a Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, and urging them to do more to recognize the newly formed government of Iraq.

Clinton said she also expects to be again discussing the gulf leaders' concerns over the public disclosure of State Department cables by WikiLeaks. The cables said that key gulf leaders have urged the United States to take military action to halt Iran's nuclear program.

The secretary of State joked that she expects to be trying to deal with the outcry over the WikiLeaks disclosures "until the end of my life."

She said she has told her staff that she wants a jacket of the kind used by touring rock bands, with a picture of a globe on the back, and the slogan, "Apology Tour."

paul.richter@latimes.com

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