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Clinton warns of 'destabilizing' Iran options
 
WASHINGTON, April 4 (BSS/AFP) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Tuesday that a nuclear-armed Iran or a conflict over its program would both destabilize the region as she pressed Tehran for clear commitments in upcoming talks.

As Israel voiced growing impatience over Iran, Clinton credited US sanctions with inflicting pressure on the Islamic republic but she warned of a tough road ahead as Tehran prepares to meet with six major powers.

"There is no clear path. We know that a nuclear-armed Iran
would be incredibly destabilizing to the region and beyond. A
conflict arising out of their program would also be very
destabilizing," Clinton said.

"There is no way to balance this. You have two very
difficult paths here," Clinton told a dinner in Norfolk,
Virginia, where she was on a day trip to visit the only NATO
command in the United States.

Clinton, who traveled over the weekend to Turkey and Saudi
Arabia, voiced concern that a nuclear-armed Iran would trigger an
arms race in the region.

"We're going to be looking for a way to try to convey the
legitimate fears that people in the region have about what comes
next. Because if Iran were ever to get a nuclear weapon, the
countries in the region are going to buy their way to one as
well," Clinton said.

Iran said last week that talks would open on April 13 with
six powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the
United States -- in the first such negotiations in more than one
year.

But Russia said Monday that the date and venue have not been
definitively set, leading the United States to say that Iran was
sending mixed signals.

Clinton, who had earlier given April 13 as the date and
Istanbul as the venue, said Tuesday only that the United States
is "hoping that those talks will commence within the next several
weeks."

"And we're hoping that there will be a path forward that
gives the Iranians a reason to believe that it is in their
national interest not to pursue their nuclear program," she said.

Clinton said the talks, in line with previous proposals,
would offer Iran support for peaceful nuclear energy if the
regime gives up highly enriched uranium and other work which
critics say could be used to make a bomb.

Clinton, speaking earlier Tuesday at the Virginia Military
Institute, said that the talks should not be "open-ended."

"We expect to see concrete commitments from Iran that it
will come clean on its nuclear program and live up to its
international obligations," Clinton said.

The United States has been threatening sanctions to press
other countries to stop buying Iranian oil, the country's chief
money-maker. Turkey said Friday that it was cutting oil imports
from its neighbor by 20 percent.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday
that Iran has not moved "even one millimeter" from its nuclear
program despite its financial struggles.

"The sanctions are painful, hard," Netanyahu told reporters
in Jerusalem. "But will this bring about a halt or a retreat in
the Iranian nuclear program? Until now, it has not happened."

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Monday that
the sanctions "may have caused us small problems but we will
continue our path."

Iranian officials, however, say its nuclear work is for
peaceful purposes. The latest US intelligence assessments have
not concluded that the regime has given the go-ahead to develop a
nuclear bomb.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in February that
possession of a nuclear bomb "constitutes a major sin" for Iran,
reiterating a fatwa -- or religious edict -- that he made in
2005.

Clinton revealed that she has been studying Khamenei's
fatwa, saying that she has discussed it with religious scholars,
other experts and with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan.

"If it is indeed a statement of principle, of values, then
it is a starting point for being operationalized," Clinton said
in Norfolk.
 
 
 
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