DOHA, Qatar — U.S. officials sought to shore up support Sunday for a tougher stand against Iran's nuclear program by saying Tehran had left the world little choice and expressing renewed confidence that holdout China would come around to harsher U.N. penalties.
Even as the Obama administration intensifies its diplomacy, Iran is showing little sign of bending to the will of its critics. Past U.N. sanctions have had little effect. Some outside experts have detected what they believe are new slowdowns in Iran's nuclear advances, but the Islamic republic is believed headed toward having nuclear weapons capability in perhaps a few years (estimates vary as to when).
President Barack Obama's senior military adviser called for more time for diplomatic pressure to work and said from Israel, which has hinted that it might attack if negotiations to contain Iran's nuclear ambitions failed, that such action could have "unintended consequences" throughout the Middle East. Israel views Iran's nuclear program as a threat to its very existence.
While diplomatic patience has its limits, "we're not there yet," U.S. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in Tel Aviv.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, on a quick visit to Persian Gulf allies Qatar and Saudi Arabia, told a forum on U.S.-Muslim relations that Iran has not lived up to its nuclear obligations and has rebuffed U.S. and international efforts to engage in serious talks. She said Iran has a right to nuclear power, but only if shown unequivocally it is to be used just for peaceful purposes.
While Iran insists it has no desire to get the bomb, Clinton said it appears otherwise.
"The evidence is accumulating that that is exactly what they are trying to do," she said during a question-and-answer session with her audience at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum, attended by officials and scholars from around the world. She also used pointed language in stressing that after months of failed efforts aimed at direct talks with Iran, tougher action is now required.
"It's time for Iran to be held to account for its activities," she said, alluding to penalties designed to squeeze Iran's economy.