- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Obama administration is laying the groundwork for “crippling sanctions” on Iran if it continues to reject international negotiations on its nuclear program, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday.

Preventing Tehran from building a nuclear weapon is “imperative” for the United States and its allies, and Washington’s deeper engagement on such issues gives it “more leverage with other nations” and a “much stronger international footing,” Mrs. Clinton said.

“We are more than willing to reach out to the Iranians to discuss a range of issues if they are willing to reach back,” she told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “But we are also laying the groundwork for the kind of very tough crippling sanctions that might be necessary in the event that our offers are either rejected or the process is inconclusive or unsuccessful.”

Earlier this month, the administration dropped a previous U.S. condition that Iran suspend uranium enrichment before Washington would join negotiations led by the European Union. Suspension remains the goal, officials say, but not a pre-condition for talking.

“We are deploying new approaches to the threat posed by Iran, and we are doing so with our eyes wide open and with no illusions,” Mrs. Clinton said.

“We know the imperative of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,” she said. “After years during which the United States basically sat on the sidelines, we are now a full partner” in negotiations.

Rep. Howard Berman, California Democrat and the committee’s chairman, asked Mrs. Clinton how much time the administration is willing to give Iran to respond to recent overtures from the West.

Mrs. Clinton did not answer the question directly.

“It is going to be a more successful engagement if our partners around the world understand they must work with us,” she said.

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