WASHINGTON -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says a new package of sanctions against Iran could come up for a vote in the UN Security Council in as little as one month's time.
Speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 24, Clinton said a year of "intense" and "patient" engagement by top U.S. diplomats with international allies is beginning to pay off, as countries once deeply opposed to the idea of tough sanctions against Iran are now changing their minds.
Iran insists its nuclear program is aimed at producing fuel for peaceful purposes, but Clinton said "language is being hammered out" at the UN on a fourth round of sanctions to punish Tehran for failing to convince the world that it is not pursuing a nuclear weapon.
She credited President Barack Obama's policy of engagement -- his vow to extend an open hand if regimes like Iran's unclench their first -- with producing a broad consensus for sanctions in the international community.
"Our very clear commitment to engagement has created space for a lot of these countries to now consider supporting sanctions that they might not have otherwise because we have demonstrated the strategic patience to exhaust the international efforts of convincing Iran to do the right thing without sanctions," Clinton said.
Clinton also said Washington has been "heartened by the positive response from Russia," one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council with veto power.
Moscow's response, Clinton said, "proved the wisdom" of Obama's foreign policy approach.
Only last fall, Russia was vocally opposed to a new round of UN sanctions against Iran, arguing for more time and diplomacy.
But following last week's IAEA report that said Iran has continued to pursue its nuclear program in secret without allowing inspectors into its facilities, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Ekho Moskvy radio that Moscow is "very alarmed."
He added, "We cannot accept this, that Iran is refusing to cooperate with the IAEA."
Earlier this month at a news conference in Berlin, Lavrov said, "If we do not see a constructive answer from Iran, we will have to discuss this in the UN Security Council."
'Progress' With China
Clinton made two appearances on Capitol Hill on February 24 and in her earlier appearance before a separate Senate committee, she said the United States and its Western partners have made "a lot of progress" toward winning China's support for a new round of UN sanctions.
With a permanent seat on the Security Council, China's historic opposition to punishing Iran has been one of Obama's biggest obstacles as he pursues his dual track strategy of pressuring Iran diplomatically while threatening tough UN sanctions if talks fail.
Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that she and other White House officials have worked to convince China that a nuclear Iran would jeopardize deliveries of Iranian and other oil supplies from the Gulf region, on which Beijing relies heavily.
"We also are making the argument in public that China's dependence on oil from the Gulf should cause it to make a strategic calculation to support sanctions because in the absence of pressure that changes the Iranian efforts to obtain a nuclear weapon, there will be an arms race in the Gulf. It could lead even to conflict, which could dramatically undermine the delivery of oil from the Gulf," Clinton said.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed financial sanctions on affiliates of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, which Clinton said the White House believes is playing an ever-increasing role in Iran's economy and political arena, and is behind Tehran's goal of obtaining a nuclear weapon.
She added that regardless of what a UN sanctions package looks like, the United States may again move against Iran independently.
"We also have made clear with others of our allies and partners that whatever comes out of New York, we may pursue bilateral or multilateral sanctions on top of whatever can be the result of the Security Council deliberation. This is the highest priority for the Obama administration," Clinton said.
Negotiations over the past year with Iran and the P5+1 -- the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany -- have seen repeated setbacks.
An offer to let Iran send its low enriched uranium abroad for processing into fuel it needs for medical treatments was first accepted, then rejected, then rewritten by Tehran.
The latest counteroffer, which came earlier this week, has fallen short of the IAEA's stated conditions.
According to the Associated Press, which saw a copy of the confidential Iranian document, the offer says Tehran "is ready to hand over the bulk of its stockpile, as called for under a deal brokered by the International Atomic Energy Agency and endorsed by the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany."
But the document says Iran is demanding that "it must simultaneously receive fuel rods for its research reactor in return, and that such an exchange must take place on Iranian territory."
Analysts say the offer is certain to be rejected by the P5+1.
Washington has already dismissed it as a ‘red herring' and said it would continue to work with its allies to prepare sanctions.