Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in Senate testimony Wednesday, reported progress in organizing support for new U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran. Clinton also expressed hope that U.S. engagement with Syria will diminish that country's ties with Iran.
Clinton told Senators that the pursuit of new sanctions over Iran's nuclear program is at the top of her diplomatic agenda, including her trip to the Gulf region last week and a multi-nation Latin American trip next week.
Among permanent U.N. Security Council member countries, Russia and China have been most reluctant to embrace what would be a fourth round of Iran nuclear sanctions.
But in testimony before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, nominally about the State Department budget, Clinton said that "tremendous progress" had been made on the issue with Russia, due largely to President Barack Obama's engagement with his Russian counterpart Dmitri Medvedev.
She also suggested progress had been made in convincing a skeptical China that Iran sanctions are in its own best interests.
"Because of their dependence, they above all should be supporting a sanctions pressure track, because an arms race in the Gulf that would further destabilize the major oil producers is not in China's interest," said Hillary Clinton. "And I think we've made a lot of progress. Now we don't come out and have a press conference every time we have these meetings. But I have seen over the past year the attitudes about Iran evolve."
Clinton said very intensive negotiations are underway in the Security Council, and unilaterally among U.S. government agencies, on sanctions that would target Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps.
Iran has spurned big-power overtures for steps that would ease concerns that its nuclear program is weapons related despite its professions of peaceful intent and the Secretary said this leaves the world community "with little choice" but to impose greater costs on Tehran.
Administration officials say they expect a new sanctions package to be debated in the Security Council in a matter of weeks.
In her testimony, Clinton also stressed U.S. outreach to Syria, where an American ambassador will shortly be in place for the first time since 2005.
She made clear that despite a warming of relations in recent months, issues remain with Syria including its close relationship with Iran.
"We have laid out for the Syrians the need for greater cooperation with respect to Iraq, the end to interference in Lebanon and the transport and provisions of weapons to Hezbollah, a resumption of the Israeli-Syrian track on the peace process which had been proceeding through the offices of the Turks the last year, and generally to begin to move away from the relationship with Iran which is so deeply troubling to the region as well as the United States," she said.
Clinton said she hopes direct peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians will "commence shortly" and that it is "absolutely essential" that they begin to talk about final-status issues of the peace process, such as borders, refugees and the status of Jerusalem.