By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 29, 2010; 3:02 PM
PARIS -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called on China Friday to overlook its short-term interest in Iranian oil and consider the long-term implications of a Persian Gulf arms race as it decides whether to support stepped-up international sanctions against Iran.
"As we move away from the engagement track, which has not produced the results that some had hoped for, and move forward toward the pressure and sanctions track" in efforts to stop Iran's nuclear program, Clinton said, "China will be under a lot of pressure to recognize the destabilizing impact that a nuclear-armed Iran would have in the Gulf, from which they receive a significant percentage of their oil supplies."
"It will produce an arms race," she said she had told the Chinese. "Israel will feel an existential threat. All of that is incredibly dangerous."
"We understand that right now it seems counterproductive to you to sanction a country from which you get so much of the natural resources your growing economy needs," Clinton said. "But think about the long-term implications."
Clinton's statement, made at the end of a speech praising U.S.-European security cooperation at France's Ecole Militaire, the country's war college for senior officers, echoed what Obama administration officials have privately told China -- including in a direct appeal from President Obama to Chinese President Hu Jintao.
But it marks the most direct public description of the U.S. case, made with increasing urgency -- and little apparent effect -- as the administration tries to persuade China to back a new round of sanctions against Iran that it hopes to propose to the U.N. Security Council next month.
The administration has warned that Israel, which has an undeclared nuclear arsenal, may make good on its threat to take military action against Iranian enrichment facilities, and spur Arab Gulf states to proceed with their own weapons programs. Clinton aides reported no breakthrough during a 45-minute meeting she held Thursday with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi outside a daylong international conference on Afghanistan.
Administration officials said Clinton had "made very clear" that Iran's refusal to respond to offers to provide enriched fuel for Iranian research reactors meant that sanctions must proceed. Russia, which has resisted sanctions in the past, has indicated its own patience with the Tehran government is reaching an end.
Officials said they anticipated growing tensions if every nation but China involved in negotiating on Iran decides it's time to move forward on sanctions. In the past, China has often taken its lead from Russia.
The administration has said it would design new sanctions to have the greatest impact on Iranian decision makers, rather than the Iranian people. But measures under discussion include restrictions on sales and support for the Iranian energy sector, including shipments of refined petroleum products and a ban on new energy investment that would effect not only the Iranian people but international investors. U.S. business leaders have said that additional sanctions would hurt the U.S. economy and endanger American competitiveness.
The U.S. Senate, in a voice vote late Thursday, approved legislation that would allow the Obama administration to impose sanctions on Iran's gasoline suppliers, targeting companies that export gasoline to Iran or help expand the country's oil refining capacity. The administration has been lukewarm toward the legislation and a similar bill that passed the House of Representatives. Differences between the bills must be reconciled before it becomes law.
At a news conference here with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, Clinton said that Congress was justifiably concerned both about Iran's nuclear program and its government's "abuse and repression of its own people" but indicated the administration preferred to consolidate an international position before expanding unilateral sanctions. "Countries that feel strongly, like the United States and France," she said, "may wish to do more."
Discussion at the Afghanistan conference, called to bolster international support for the war effort there and Obama's new strategy, focused on Afghan President Hamid Karzai's call for negotiations with the Taliban to end the war.
The administration has said it supports reassimilation of low-level Taliban fighters, and government representatives at the conference agreed to establish a fund to provide jobs and security for the fighters if they agree to lay down their arms. U.S. officials said they were not in favor of discussions with Taliban leaders or any insurgents who had not already stopped fighting and severed any ties with al-Qaeda, although they said it was a decision for the Afghan government.
Asked by reporters Friday morning about reports that the outgoing U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, held exploratory talks last month with leaders of the Quetta shura, the leadership council of the Afghan Taliban based in Pakistan, Clinton indirectly confirmed that the meeting took place. Eide, she said, "wanted to test for himself his own conclusions about the mindset of [Taliban] leaders" as he was leaving Afghanistan.
Administrations have been less then effusive in assessing Eide's performance over the past several years in Afghanistan. Clinton summarized her opinion of Eide by saying that he "did a lot of hard work there in a very difficult situation."
In her Paris speech, Clinton praised French cooperation in Afghanistan and Haiti, and gently but firmly rejected Russians calls to renegotiate the U.S.-European security framework, including NATO and the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.
"For years, Russia has expressed a sense of insecurity as NATO and the E.U. [European Union] have expanded," Clinton said. "We strongly believe that the enlargement of NATO and the E.U. has increased security, stability, and prosperity across the continent -- and that this, in turn, has increased Russia's security. Furthermore, the right of all countries to enter into alliances of their own choosing has been endorsed by Russia."
Despite repeated Russian insistence that it is entitled to establish its own geographic sphere of security interest in eastern Europe, she said, "NATO must and will remain open to any country that aspires to become a member and can meet the requirements of membership."
Russia suspended implementation of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty two years ago in the wake of Western criticism of its 2008 armed conflict with Georgia and the ongoing deployment of Russian troops in separatist Georgian territory. Clinton said the treaty was now in danger of "crumbling" and called for discussions with Russia to revive it.
"Our goal," she said, "should be a modern security framework that takes into account developments in Europe since the original treaty was drafted; limits military deployments; and strengthens the principles of transparency, territorial integrity, non-first use of force, the right of host countries to consent to stationing foreign troops in their territory."