WASHINGTON -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has told an influential pro-Israel lobbying group that she's optimistic the UN Security Council will approve sanctions against Iran that will be strong enough to make it finally disclose the scope of its nuclear program.
"There is a growing international consensus on taking steps to pressure Iran's leaders to change course," Clinton said.
In a speech in Washington before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Clinton noted that the Security Council has already voted three times to impose sanctions on Tehran.
But those measures have failed to persuade Iran to be fully transparent about its nuclear program, which many believe is aimed at developing an atomic bomb. Now, she said, it's time for stronger sanctions.
"Our aim is not incremental sanctions, but sanctions that will bite," Clinton said. "It is taking time to produce these sanctions, and we believe that time is a worthwhile investment for winning the broadest possible support for our efforts."
The issue is crucial to Israelis, who view Iran as a growing threat to their very existence, now that it is building rockets with greater range. Israel and many of its supporters also have interpreted comments by Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad as advocating the elimination of the Jewish state.
Clinton described the broad threat the United States believes Iran's nuclear program presents, saying it encouraged violence by nonstate militants in the Middle East and could trigger an arms race in the region, especially among predominantly Sunni Muslim states that oppose Shi'ite Iran.
"A nuclear-armed Iran would embolden its terrorist clientele and would spark an arms race that could destabilize the region. This is unacceptable," Clinton said.
"It is unacceptable to the United States, it is unacceptable to Israel, it is unacceptable to the region and the international community. So let me be very clear: The United States is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons."
U.S. Opposes Israeli Settlements
The delegates to the AIPAC convention applauded enthusiastically several times when Clinton was speaking of Iran, but her comments on U.S.-Israeli relations were met by a more subdued reaction.
A diplomatic rift opened up between Israel and the United States on March 10, when Israel announced plans to build 1,600 new Jewish homes in predominantly Palestinian East Jerusalem. The announcement came as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was on a visit to the country in a show of U.S. support for Israel.
Biden and Clinton both sharply condemned the plan, and Clinton followed up with a 40-minute phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in which she told him that the announcement sent "a deeply negative signal" about Israel's relationship with the United States, according to the State Department.
In Washington today, Clinton repeated the U.S. position that Israel should not build Jewish settlements on land that would come under Palestinian control in a future two-state solution.
"New construction in East Jerusalem or the West Bank undermines that mutual trust and endangers the proximity talks that are the first step toward the full negotiations that both sides say they want and need," Clinton said.
"And it exposes daylight between Israel and the United States that others in the region could hope to exploit. It undermines America's unique ability to play a role -- an essential role -- in the peace process."
She said U.S. objections were based on the belief that only a two-state solution can bring peace and security to Israel, which she said Washington is committed to achieving.
Clinton said talks already are under way with Netanyahu on confidence-building measure Tel Aviv can take to restore Palestinians' confidence in the so-called "proximity" peace talks, in which the two sides negotiate separately through a mediator.
On March 21, Netanyahu said he had ruled out a freeze on settlement building as a potential compromise.
The Israeli leader is scheduled to address the AIPAC convention today, and meet with Clinton tonight. On March 23 he meets with President Barack Obama at the White House.