Clinton raises prospect of ‘regional conflict’ over Iran

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Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, has warned of the risk of regional conflict if new United Nations sanctions are not imposed on Tehran’s nuclear programme, telling the Financial Times that “ignoring the threat posed by Iran will put the world in a more precarious position within six months to a year”.

Senior Pentagon officials last week said Iran could develop enough fissile material for a bomb within a year, although it would probably take three to five years for Tehran to develop a serviceable weapon.

In the interview, conducted last week, Mrs Clinton called for sanctions “as soon as feasible” in the face of scepticism from China, Turkey and Brazil.

“What’s the alternative?” she asked. “The alternative is to permit them to continue pursuing nuclear weapons, either actual production or full capacity, which will trigger an arms race among their neighbours and would put one of the most volatile regions in the world at risk and could even trigger a conflict. And I don’t believe that that’s a chance worth taking.”

Barack Obama’s administration has urged Israel not to strike Iran amid fears the US could be drawn into a conflict. Iran insists its nuclear programme is peaceful. “What we believe is that if the international community will unify and make this statement, maybe then we would get the Iranians’ attention in a way that would lead to the kind of good faith negotiations that President Obama called for 15 months ago,” Mrs Clinton said.

Expanding on the cost of “ignoring” Iran, she said: “Can I sit here and tell you exactly what will happen, assuming we are able to get the kind of sanctions that we are looking for? No, but . . . I am someone who believes in taking preventive measures, trying to work toward some better outcome among some really difficult and not very satisfying choices.”

The New York Times reported on Sunday that Robert Gates, US defence secretary, had warned the White House the US lacked a long-term strategy on Iran. But Mr Gates replied that the paper had “mischaracterised” his memo. Instead, he said, he had “identified next steps in our defence planning process where further . . . policy decisions would be needed in the months and weeks ahead”.

He added “the US is properly and energetically focused on this question”.

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