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U.S., Israel Seek To Shore Up Support For Tough Iran Stance


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha
(RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is meeting with the Saudi leadership in Riyadh today, hoping to enlist the kingdom in persuading China to support a tougher stand against Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Clinton was received in Riyadh by Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal ahead of talks with King Abdullah, as Washington seeks to rally international support for a fourth round of United Nations sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

The talks follow strong words on Iran from the chief U.S. diplomat in neighboring Qatar earlier today, where she said Iran was "moving toward military dictatorship."

Speaking to students, Clinton said the region had reason to fear Iran's nuclear program. She also said her country was not aiming to use military action to curb Tehran's nuclear ambitions, but rather seeking to build support for tough new sanctions.

Speaking on February 14 at a U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar, Clinton urged Iran to reconsider its "dangerous" decisions.

"What does Iran have to hide? Why is Iran refusing to live up to its international obligations, which would lead to political and economic integration with the international community that would actually benefit its people?" Clinton asked. "Iran leaves the international community little choice but to impose greater costs for its provocative steps. Together, we are encouraging Iran to reconsider its dangerous policy decisions."

Jeffrey Feltman, the acting U.S. assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, told reporters on February 13 that Saudi Arabia could help "sharpen the question for Iran." Feltman, who accompanied Clinton to the region, noted that Saudi Arabia and China have recently increased their diplomatic and commercial contacts.

The United States and its allies suspect Iran is attempting to develop a nuclear weapon. Tehran denies this, insisting that its nuclear program is peaceful.

Oil Suppliers

China, which wields a veto on the UN Security Council as a permanent member, is against imposing more UN sanctions on Iran in an effort to make it halt uranium enrichment. Beijing is said to fear a major loss of revenue from investments in Iran as well as a disruption in oil supplies from the country, which provides it with 400,000 barrels a day.

But Beijing faces a dilemma. It has also become a major Saudi trading partner and has even overtaken the United States as Riyadh's biggest oil customer, purchasing about 1 million barrels a day.

U.S. officials have hinted that Saudi Arabia could help ease Beijing's reluctance to impose further sanctions on Iran by offering China guarantees it would meet any shortfall in its oil needs if further sanctions are imposed.

Reuters quoted unidentified U.S. officials as saying they believed Saudi Arabia had made some gestures toward China on fuel assurances, but gave no details.

Speaking on February 14 on NBC television, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said he was confident that Beijing would change its approach and back new sanctions.

"We have made significant progress. You have Iran more isolated internally by its own people than it has been in the last 20 years," Biden said. "In the region, they're completely isolated. We have the support of everyone from Russia to Europe and I believe we'll get the support of China to continue to impose sanctions on Iran, to isolate them, to make it clear that in fact they cannot move forward."

President Barack Obama's national security adviser said on February 14 that the United States was about to add to the Iranian regime's difficulties by participating in "very tough sanctions." James Jones told the Fox News channel that the additional measures could come before the end of February.

Pressure From Israel

As part of the ongoing effort to gain support for sanctions against Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow today.

But neither man made any public comment on the Iranian nuclear standoff. Medvedev said he was "glad to have the chance to meet and discuss bilateral relations" with Israel and pressing international issues, primarily the Middle East peace process. Netanyahu, meanwhile, spoke of "strengthening our mutual relations in every area."

Ahead of the meeting, Netanyahu had told his cabinet that a range of issues would be discussed but "first and foremost Iran." Netanyahu is also expected to hold talks with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on February 16.

Russia has long-standing ties with Iran and is helping to build the country’s first civilian nuclear power plant in the city of Bushehr.

Moscow, one of the five permanent members of the Security Council with the power to veto any resolution, has been reluctant to consider fresh sanctions against Iran and repeatedly urged restraint in the nuclear standoff. But in recent weeks it has toughened its stance toward Iran.

On February 9, the secretary of Russia's National Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, said Iran's announcement that it had begun enriching uranium to higher levels than ever before on its own territory raised "doubts" about Tehran's nuclear intentions.

But in a sign the talks in Moscow may not go entirely smoothly, a leading member of Russia's Security Council, Vladimir Nazarov, said that care must be taken to ensure sanctions do not "back Iran into a corner." Nazarov also said there was no reason not to ship Russian S-300 missile systems to Tehran as planned.

Russia has yet to fulfill a contract to deliver the sophisticated antiaircraft missile systems to Tehran, a deal which could significantly strengthen Iranian air defenses against military action.

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