Image: Iran carries out missile test
Ali Shaigan  /  AP
Iran's Revolutionary Guards carry a missile test out during military exercises at an undisclosed location.
updated 9/27/2009 12:31:31 PM ET 2009-09-27T16:31:31

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she doesn't believe Iran can convince the U.S. and other world powers that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, putting Tehran on a course for tougher economic penalties beyond the current "leaky sanctions."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates played down the effectiveness of military strikes against Iran's newly disclosed secret uranium-enriching facility. Gates and Clinton said economic and diplomatic pressure would have a better chance of changing Iranian policies.

"The reality is, there is no military option that does anything more than buy time," he told CNN's "State of the Union" in an interview broadcast Sunday.

"The Iranians are in a very bad spot now because of this deception, in terms of all of the great powers. And there obviously is the opportunity for severe additional sanctions."

The nuclear program, which Iran claims is designed to generate electricity, is at the top of the agenda at a meeting Thursday in Geneva involving diplomats from Iran, the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany.

‘Don't assert it, prove it’
The Iranians must "present convincing evidence as to the purpose of their nuclear program. We don't believe that they can present convincing evidence, that it's only for peaceful purposes, but we are going to put them to the test," Clinton told CBS' "Face the Nation."

She told the Iranian government: "Don't assert it, prove it. ... They can't say anything because they've said that for years, but they can open their entire system to the kind of extensive investigation that the facts call for."

"If we don't get the answers that we are expecting and the changes in behavior that we're looking for, then we will work with our partners to move toward sanctions," Clinton added.

Tensions grew with the announcement Sunday that Iran successfully test-fired short-range missiles during military drills by the elite Revolutionary Guard.

Gates emphasized China's key role in winning additional penalties against Iran. The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, including China, would have to agree to new sanctions. The United States, Britain and France support additional economic conditions and Russia now appears favorable. But China relies heavily on Iranian oil imports and remains reluctant to give its assent.

"China's participation is clearly important," Gates said.

Gates said further penalties could cause Iran to change its nuclear policies because it already faces serious economic problems.

High unemployment among young Iranians
Clinton spoke of "exploring how you broaden and deepen sanctions. Now sanctions are already in place as you know but like many sanction regimes they're leaky."

The defense chief described the political turmoil under Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as "simmering," and noted that unemployment among young people in the country is about 40 percent.

"It's clear in the aftermath of the election that there are some fairly deep fissures in Iranian society and politics and — and probably even in the leadership," he said. "And, frankly, this is one of the reasons why I think additional and especially severe economic sanctions could have some real impact because we know that the sanctions that have already been placed on the country have had an impact."

The Pentagon chief added, "We are seeing some changes or some divisions in the Iranian leadership and in society that we really haven't seen in the 30 years since the revolution."

It is critical that world powers persuade the Iranians that their pursuit of nuclear weapons will undermine their country's security, Gates said.

This week's meeting is the first step to see if Tehran can change policy to the satisfaction of the world's powers. If that fails, Gates said, then "you begin to move in the direction of severe sanctions. ... I think that severe sanctions would have the potential" of changing their policies.

"How long do I think we have? I would say somewhere between one to three years," he told ABC's "This Week."

A senior Obama administration official said Saturday that the U.S. and its partners at the Geneva meeting will insist that Tehran provide "unfettered access" to its previously secret Qom enrichment facility within weeks.

So-called transparency package
The six major powers also will present in the Oct. 1 meeting in Geneva a so-called transparency package covering all of Iran's nuclear activities across the country, the official said. This would include full access for the International Atomic Energy Agency to any and every site, notebooks, computers and documents related to nuclear development, and all scientists.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss plans that are not yet ready to be announced.

But beyond the timeframe of "weeks" for coming clean on Qom, the six countries will not give Iran a specific deadline to provide the information about its overall program, the official said.

The development of such a timeframe will depend on the Iranians' actions in the meeting and directly after it, the official said.

The United States will be represented in Thursday's meeting in Geneva by William Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, a career diplomat.

On Saturday, Iran's nuclear chief told state TV that his country would allow the U.N. nuclear agency to inspect Iran's newly revealed and still unfinished uranium enrichment facility. Ali Akbar Salehi did not specify when inspectors from the IAEA could visit. He said the timing would be worked out with the U.N. watchdog.

Earlier Saturday, President Barack Obama offered Iran "a serious, meaningful dialogue" over its disputed nuclear program, while warning Tehran of grave consequences from a united global front.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Bill Clinton on engaging Iran

  1. Transcript of: Bill Clinton on engaging Iran

    I'd like to start by asking you about these latest developments on Iran and the discovery of an underground facility. The bottom line is, from the administration's point of view, is this the time for engagement, or is it the time to get tough?

    PRES. CLINTON: Well, I -- my answer is both. That is, you know, I know what I read in the newspaper, but my impression is that the United States knew about this for some time and then a couple of days ago, you know, Iran gave a kind of half-hearted notification to the International Atomic Energy Agency about this site. Then the U.S. must have shared what they knew, because you got the very tough statement from President Medvedev from Russia at the U.N. , then the British and French leaders, Prime Minister Brown and President Sarkozy , joined with President Obama in issuing his statement. The Chinese, I'm assuming, have been notified, because they've been working closely with the Russians and the Americans on the North Korean nonproliferation issue to constrain the ability to spread whatever technology they have or to allow the North Koreans to add to their stock.

    So I think when the secretary of state kept saying, " Iran 's got a choice to make, Iran 's got a choice to make," it now looks, reading in the newspaper, that what they were saying is, "We want to talk to you. You can't avoid talking about this. We have to resolve this." And I believe the president has now said by the end of the year, and I think Hillary had said something like December. So my view is this is the very time to talk to them, because we're in a difficult situation now. And it's not a question I want to emphasize about whether we trust them or not, because we've demonstrated that we have the ability to verify. And I think, I think the U.S. wanted to talk because they knew about this and they knew that Iran was about to get in a position where they might be irreversibly putting themselves on a conflict course not only with us but, as you now see, with the Europeans -- the Germans endorsed a statement with the Russians -- and presumably with the Chinese. Just because they haven't said anything, we shouldn't draw any negative conclusions. They normally take a little longer.

    MR. GREGORY: But is this a moment where the president says to Iran , "We got you, and now it's time to act or you're going to face serious consequences"?

    PRES. CLINTON: Well, I think that's what they want to communicate with them. And I think the reason they want to have talks is if they have talks and they don't just hurl assaults in the, in the press about it, they can more explicitly lay out things they may not be prepared to say in public yet about what the options are if Iran continues down this path, and they can also talk about where we might go together if they reverse course . So I always think it's a good idea, if possible, to look somebody in the eye and have a chance to have a conversation before there's a total breach. But I, I think this is actually healthy that this has broken. I -- the, the Iranians must have known that the Americans knew, somehow they must have found out that, or they wouldn't have voluntarily notified the IAEA about this.

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