Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that a nuclear-armed Iran or a conflict over its program would both destabilize the region as she pressed Tehran for clear commitments in upcoming talks.
As Israel voiced growing impatience over Iran, Clinton credited US sanctions with inflicting pressure on the Islamic republic but she warned of a tough road ahead as Tehran prepares to meet with six major powers.
"There is no clear path. We know that a nuclear-armed Iran would be incredibly destabilizing to the region and beyond. A conflict arising out of their program would also be very destabilizing," Clinton said.
"There is no way to balance this. You have two very difficult paths here," Clinton told a dinner in Norfolk, Virginia, where she was on a day trip to visit the only NATO command in the United States.
Clinton, who traveled over the weekend to Turkey and Saudi Arabia, voiced concern that a nuclear-armed Iran would trigger an arms race in the region.
"We're going to be looking for a way to try to convey the legitimate fears that people in the region have about what comes next. Because if Iran were ever to get a nuclear weapon, the countries in the region are going to buy their way to one as well," Clinton said.
Iran said last week that talks would open on April 13 with six powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States -- in the first such negotiations in more than one year.
But Russia said Monday that the date and venue have not been definitively set, leading the United States to say that Iran was sending mixed signals.
Clinton, who had earlier given April 13 as the date and Istanbul as the venue, said Tuesday only that the United States is "hoping that those talks will commence within the next several weeks."
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"And we're hoping that there will be a path forward that gives the Iranians a reason to believe that it is in their national interest not to pursue their nuclear program," she said.
Clinton said the talks, in line with previous proposals, would offer Iran support for peaceful nuclear energy if the regime gives up highly enriched uranium and other work which critics say could be used to make a bomb.
Clinton, speaking earlier Tuesday at the Virginia Military Institute, said that the talks should not be "open-ended."
"We expect to see concrete commitments from Iran that it will come clean on its nuclear program and live up to its international obligations," Clinton said.
The United States has been threatening sanctions to press other countries to stop buying Iranian oil, the country's chief money-maker. Turkey said Friday that it was cutting oil imports from its neighbor by 20 percent.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Iran has not moved "even one millimeter" from its nuclear program despite its financial struggles.
"The sanctions are painful, hard," Netanyahu told reporters in Jerusalem. "But will this bring about a halt or a retreat in the Iranian nuclear program? Until now, it has not happened."
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Monday that the sanctions "may have caused us small problems but we will continue our path."
Iranian officials, however, say its nuclear work is for peaceful purposes. The latest US intelligence assessments have not concluded that the regime has given the go-ahead to develop a nuclear bomb.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in February that possession of a nuclear bomb "constitutes a major sin" for Iran, reiterating a fatwa -- or religious edict -- that he made in 2005.
Clinton revealed that she has been studying Khamenei's fatwa, saying that she has discussed it with religious scholars, other experts and with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
"If it is indeed a statement of principle, of values, then it is a starting point for being operationalized," Clinton said in Norfolk.