Last Updated: Mon Jan 10, 2011 21:02 pm (KSA) 18:02 pm (GMT)

Clinton says sanctions are slowing Iran atom work

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is kicking off a three-country Gulf tour
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is kicking off a three-country Gulf tour

U.S .Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that international sanctions have made it "much more difficult" for Iran to pursue its nuclear ambitions.

Kicking off a three-country Gulf tour, the chief U.S. diplomat also accused Iran of opposing a negotiated Palestinian-Israeli settlement to distract attention from fears it is bent on becoming a nuclear-armed country.

"The most recent analysis is that the sanctions have been working," Clinton told university students in the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi in a program for MBC television channel.

"They have made it much more difficult for Iran to pursue its nuclear ambitions. Iran has technological problems that has made it slow down its timetable," the chief U.S. diplomat said.

"So we do see some problems within Iran. But the real question is how do we convince Iran that pursuing nuclear weapons will not make it safer and stronger but just the opposite?" she said.

Clinton has in the past said sanctions have begun to hurt Iran economically, forcing it to return to negotiations, but she has not previously said Iran's nuclear program has been affected.

Iran says its aims are peaceful, denying charges by Israel and the West that its uranium enrichment work masks a drive for nuclear weapons.

Clinton, who is in the Gulf seeking to urge Iran's neighbors to step up enforcement of sanctions on Tehran, repeated that it was important to keep the limits in place and blamed Iran for encouraging the "drumbeats" of war around the region to divert attention from its nuclear work.

"I'm aware of the drumbeats and I think that those unfortunately are being created for very cynical purposes," Clinton said, citing what she said were efforts to destabilize Lebanon and sow further discord between Israel and the Palestinians.

"I'm deeply worried about the efforts to destabilize Lebanon," Clinton said during the taping of a television talk show. "We should do everything we can to make sure those warnings are not accurate."

At the end of December, Israel's strategic affairs minister, Moshe Yalon, said Iran's nuclear program has been beset by difficulties, leaving Tehran still about three years away from being able to build nuclear weapons.

Clinton accused Iran of complicating efforts for Arab-Israeli peace.

"There is very little doubt that Iran does not want to see any kind of negotiated peace between the Israelis and Palestinians for its own purposes," Clinton said.

"It wants to keep its attention off of what is the big concern for the future, which is a nuclear-armed Iran with weapons that threaten its neighbors and beyond," she said.

Upbeat assessment

On the troubled Middle East peace process, she gave an upbeat assessment.

"Let's seize this moment while we have President (Barack) Obama, while we have progress on state-building by the Palestinians, while we do have an Israeli government that will be able to deliver a peace if they can agree to the terms."

Clinton, however, expressed concern over attempts to "destabilize" Lebanon amid tensions linked to a U.N. probe into the 2005 murder of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri.

Later on Monday, Clinton travelled to Dubai to meet its ruler and UAE Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed al-Maktoum, Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan and other top officials, state news agency WAM said.

A meeting with the UAE president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan, was called off after he broke his arm on Monday while exercising, officials said.

Clinton's five-day tour is also to take her to Oman and Qatar.

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