RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that Iran is sliding into a military dictatorship, a new assessment suggesting a rockier road ahead for U.S.-led efforts to stop Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
As the first high-level Obama administration official to make such an accusation, Clinton was reflecting an ever-dimming outlook for persuading Iran to negotiate limits on its nuclear program, which it has insisted is intended only for peaceful purposes. The U.S. and others – including the two Gulf countries Clinton visited Sunday and Monday – believe Iran is headed for a nuclear bomb capability.
Clinton also was revealing the logic of the administration’s plan to target the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps with a new round of international sanctions intended to compel Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions before it increases the likelihood of a military clash.
Clinton flew to Riyadh, the Saudi capital, where Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal seemed to express doubt about the usefulness of seeking more sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. In a joint appearance with Clinton, he said the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions demands a more immediate solution. The Saudi foreign minister didn’t identify a preferred short-term resolution.
“Sanctions are a long-term solution. But we see the issue in the shorter term because we are closer to the threat,” he said.
U.S. officials said privately that they were unsure of al-Faisal’s meaning and that they were certain Saudi Arabia was not opposed to new sanctions. Clinton was driven in King Abdullah’s private bus about 65 miles northeast to Rawdat Khurayim, a secluded royal hunting retreat where the vacationing king hosted her for lunch. Afterward they met privately. Earlier in the day, in Doha, Qatar, Clinton spoke bluntly about Iranian behavior and what she called the Obama administration’s view of Iran as increasingly dominated by the Revolutionary Guard Corps. Her statements may have been designed to deepen what U.S. analysts see as growing fissures between Iran’s regular armed forces and the Revolutionary Guards, whose authority has widened since the disputed presidential election in June.
Last week the U.S. Treasury Department announced that it was freezing the assets in U.S. jurisdictions of a Revolutionary Guard general and four subsidiaries of a previously penalized construction company he runs because of their alleged involvement in producing and spreading weapons of mass destruction.