New York Times: The Obama administration is working to keep up the pressure on Iran from its neighbors in the Persian Gulf, despite new reports suggesting that a combination of sanctions and sabotage may have delayed by several years Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear bomb.
The New York Times
By MARK LANDLER
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — The Obama administration is working to keep up the pressure on Iran from its neighbors in the Persian Gulf, despite new reports suggesting that a combination of sanctions and sabotage may have delayed by several years Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear bomb.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, arriving in this Arab emirate Sunday for a four-day visit to the region, urged Iran’s neighbors to stay focused on enforcing sanctions. Many Persian Gulf states have curtailed their commercial ties with Iran, and Mrs. Clinton said she did not want these reports to be used as a justification for them to backtrack.
“We don’t want anyone to be misled by anyone’s intelligence analysis — this remains a serious concern,” Mrs. Clinton said to reporters traveling with her. “We expect all of our partners who share that concern, as these countries certainly do, to stay as focused as they can, and to do everything within reason that will help to implement these sanctions.”
Last week, the departing chief of Israel’s intelligence agency, Meir Dagan, said that Iran would not be able to produce a nuclear weapon before 2015 because of “measures that have been deployed against them.” American officials have also suggested that technical complications may have slowed Iran, which was once seen as being only a year or two away from a bomb.
This has eased tensions in a standoff that many feared would end in war. But it poses a challenge to the Obama administration, which has forged a coalition against Iran by drawing in sometimes reluctant partners like China, Russia and the tiny emirates that face Iran across the Persian Gulf.
While not commenting on Mr. Dagan’s prediction, Mrs. Clinton said it was important not to get too hung up on the timeline for a bomb, since the goal is to prevent Iran from obtaining one.
“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 a three-year time frame,” she said. “I think we should keep the focus where it belongs: on the intensive international effort, certainly highlighted by the sanctions, which we believe have had a very significant impact.”
Iran says that its nuclear program is peaceful.
Mrs. Clinton said Iran continues to look for loopholes in the sanctions, moving its banking business from country to country as it hits closed doors. It has also tried to divide countries in nuclear negotiations, recently offering a tour of its nuclear installations to Russia, China, the European Union and sympathetic Arab countries — but not the United States.
At the next round of nuclear talks, scheduled for Jan. 21 in Istanbul, Mrs. Clinton said that major powers needed to tell Iran it could negotiate only through the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Dubai and other gulf emirates have curtailed their banking relationships with Iran, under pressure from the United States and the West. But they are loath to provoke a confrontation with Tehran, and there is evidence of continued smuggling across the Persian Gulf.
The suspicions between Iran and its neighbors were laid bare in the confidential diplomatic cables released by the antisecrecy group WikiLeaks. Several gulf leaders were quoted expressing deep fears about Iran and urging the United States to take military action to prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
A 2006 cable quotes Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi as warning an American visitor that the United States needed to take action “this year or next year.” “This guy is going to take us to war,” he said of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “It’s a matter of time.”
Mrs. Clinton acknowledged that this trip, which includes stops in Dubai, Oman and Qatar, will be devoted at least in part to making amends for these embarrassing disclosures. She spent much of her last trip to Central Asia apologizing for the leaks to aggrieved world leaders.
“I think I will be answering concerns about WikiLeaks until the end of my life, not just the end of my tenure as secretary of state,” she said, joking that she has asked her staff to make jackets like those worn by touring rock bands, with a picture of the globe and the title “The Apology Tour.”