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Mr. Kerry struck a notably firmer tone toward Iran, asserting that U.S. “policy is not containment, it is prevention, and the clock is ticking on our efforts to secure responsible compliance.”

On China, meanwhile, he was somewhat softer, showing an eagerness to work carefully and closely with the rising Asian power on threats across the globe, particularly those posed by a nuclear armed Iran and North Korea.

China is cooperating with us now on Iran,” Mr. Kerry said. “I think there might be more we could perhaps do with respect to North Korea.”

“There could be more we could do in other parts of the Far East, and hopefully we can build those relationships that will further that transformation,” he added. “We make progress. It’s incremental. You know, it’s a tough slog. And there just isn’t any single magic way to approach it.”