Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told senators Wednesday that if Iran obtains a nuclear weapons capability, it would trigger an arms race in the Middle East and beyond. She said the Obama administration is pursuing a diplomatic track on the issue with Iran but within a specific time-frame.
Clinton said the specter of a nuclear-armed Iran has created what amounts to an "alliance" among Israel and many Arab states, and she is hoping the shared interests will give impetus not only to diplomacy with Iran but also a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In testimony before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee nominally devoted to the foreign affairs budget, she said the Obama administration - which promises diplomatic outreach with Iran - hopes to persuade the Tehran government that it will actually be less secure if it succeeds in what U.S. officials believe is an effort to acquire a nuclear weapons capability.
"A nuclear-armed Iran with a deliverable weapons system is going to spark an arms race in the Middle East and the greater region. That is not going to be in the interests of Iranian security and we believe that we have a very strong case to make for that," she said.
Clinton spoke in response to questioning from Republican Senator Judd Gregg, who called Iran a terrorist state, and noted Washington comments earlier this week by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that preventing a nuclear Iran should take precedence over Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.
The Secretary of State, echoing remarks by President Obama to the Israeli leader, said diplomacy on both issues can proceed at the same time.
"The president made it clear that he is committed to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons with all of the consequences that that would entail. But at the same time we cannot wait on the Palestinian-Israeli efforts regarding peace. So we think they have to proceed simultaneously," she added.
Clinton said U.S. outreach to Iran, expected to begin after that country's presidential election next month, will be time-limited but refused to be more specific. President Obama indicated Tuesday the United States would pursue tougher sanctions against Iran if diplomatic efforts fail to make progress by the end of this year.
On another issue, Clinton told senators there is "no basis for believing" that any U.S. aid money going to Pakistan is being diverted to that country's nuclear program, as was suggested earlier this week in a report by The New York Times.
She also said the United States has gotten reassurances from the Pakistani government about the safety of its nuclear arsenal amid the threat posed by Taliban forces in that country's northern region.
She said the Obama administration, which had been concerned about Pakistan's willingness to take on Islamic extremists, now believes it is making an "all-out" effort to take back areas recently seized by the Taliban.