U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said international sanctions and technical difficulties have slowed Iran’s nuclear progress.
“The most recent analysis is that the sanctions have been working, they have made it much more difficult for Iran to pursue its nuclear ambitions,” Clinton said at a town hall meeting at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed University today. “Technological problems” have also slowed Iran’s progress, she said. “Their program from our best estimate has been slowed down, so we have time, but not a lot of time.”
Israel’s outgoing head of intelligence, Meir Dagan, said last week that Iran wouldn’t be able to produce a nuclear weapon before 2015. Earlier Israeli estimates put Iran one to two years away from achieving such a capability. Iran’s leaders say the program is meant for peaceful means, including medical research.
“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 timeframe,” Clinton told reporters yesterday en route to the Gulf. “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’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Nov. 29 that several centrifuges used to enrich uranium were affected by malicious computer software. Symantec Corp., the world’s largest maker of computer security software, said in a Nov. 12 study that the Stuxnet virus may have been created to sabotage Iran’s uranium-enrichment work.
Iran resumed nuclear talks last month in Geneva with the so-called P5+1 nations -- United Nations Security Council permanent members China, France, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S. plus Germany -- after more than a year. Clinton said the next round of talks will start in about two weeks in Istanbul.
A fourth round of UN economic sanctions, approved in June, restricts financial transactions with Iran. The move was followed by separate U.S. measures that block access to the American financial system for banks doing business in Iran. EU governments also tightened punitive measures against Iran by banning investment and sales of equipment to the country’s oil and natural-gas industries.
Clinton met today with leaders in the U.A.E. capital, Abu Dhabi, and then travels to the neighboring emirate of Dubai to discuss Iran and support for the newly formed government in Iraq. Her four-day trip will take her to Oman and Qatar as well.
In the Gulf, where Abu Dhabi’s leaders reportedly have pushed the U.S. to act aggressively against Iran and Dubai has urged a more gentle approach, Dagan’s comments may hurt U.S. efforts to maintain a united front on sanctions.
Her talks with the Gulf leaders follow the Wikileaks release of diplomatic cables that revealed Abu Dhabi’s rulers see Iran as a “primordial” threat and oppose the way rulers in Dubai, Qatar and Oman are dealing with Iran.
Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, referred to in cables as “MbZ,” is quoted as saying the other Gulf countries are “dating” Iran, thinking if they’re nice, Iran won’t strike. “They are seriously mistaken,” he tells the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen.
Clinton said at Zayed University that Iran was intent on maintaining unrest between Israelis and Palestinians and in the region at large, through political tensions in Lebanon, where it acts through Hezbollah, and in the Gaza Strip, where it backs the militant group Hamas.
Hezbollah and Hamas are classified by the U.S. and Israel as terrorist organizations.
“I think that there is very little doubt that Iran does not want to see any kind of negotiated peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” Clinton said. “If they can shift attention away from their own internal decisions about whether or not to pursue nuclear weapons, they will be very happy about that.”
In the hour-long talk filmed for the local television show “Soft Talk,” Clinton also touched on her courtship with Bill Clinton, said she wouldn’t run for president again and spoke about the need to ensure freedoms for women and girls.