Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday that U.S. diplomacy has moved China closer to the American view that Iran's continuing refusal to come clean on its nuclear program demands tough new U.N. sanctions.
"I think we've made a lot of progress" toward gaining Chinese backing of new sanctions, Clinton told a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing on the State Department's 2011 budget request.
The U.S. and others believe Iran is hiding nuclear weapons development under the guise of a civilian energy program. Iran insists that its intentions are peaceful.
Clinton said Iran's failure to accept the Obama administration's offers of engagement and prove its nuclear intentions are peaceful had given the U.S. and its partners new resolve in pressuring Tehran to comply with international demands through fresh penalties.
Clinton acknowledged that some key countries, like China, are still not ready to support new U.N. sanctions, but she said that in recent weeks during visits abroad she has pushed hard to explain the U.S. view on why Iran's actions cannot go unanswered by the U.N.
Among the arguments she said she has made to Chinese officials is that if Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon triggers an arms race in the Persian Gulf region, that will harm China's own security interests, considering China's reliance on Iranian oil.
"Iran is at the top of my agenda," she said. Clinton said the U.S. has pursued an approach to Iran "that has exposed its refusal to live up to its responsibilities and helped us achieve a new unity with our international partners."
"Iran has left the international community little choice but to impose greater costs and pressure in the face of its provocative steps," Clinton said. "We are now working actively with our partners to prepare and implement new measures to pressure Iran to change its course."
Clinton addressed the possibility that Congress may impose its own sanctions on Iran, besides those the U.S. is seeking through the United Nations Security Council. If Congress does that, Clinton said, it should leave the administration enough flexibility to continue the separate U.N. track.
Congressional sanctions might be tougher than any the United States could win international approval for at the U.N., but the United States wants international backing for its tough stance against Iran and sees the U.N. penalties as a powerful symbol of world resolve against an Iranian bomb.
Clinton was on Capitol Hill to present the administration's 2011 budget request for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development of $52.8 billion, which if approved by Congress would be a $4.9 billion increase over the current budget. Most of the extra money is set to support U.S. efforts in three countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.
Iran has formally set out its terms for giving up most of its cache of enriched uranium in a confidential document — and the conditions fall short of what has been demanded by the United States and other world powers.
Washington has dismissed the document — seen by The Associated Press on Tuesday — as a "red herring" and warned it would consult with its allies on new penalties on Iran to punish it for its nuclear defiance.
The document says Tehran is ready to hand over the bulk of its stockpile, as called for under a deal brokered by the International Atomic Energy Agency and endorsed by the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany.
But Iran adds that it must simultaneously receive fuel rods for its research reactor in return, and that such an exchange must take place on Iranian territory.
The Iranian offer was sure to be rejected by the six powers, which have waited for nearly six months for such an official answer.
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