WASHINGTON (AP) — With Iran's nuclear program sparking tension around the world, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton looked for a diplomatic way to halt Tehran's uranium enrichment in meetings Thursday with world leaders. Later, she was expected to hear an alternative argument for possible military action in a private meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The diplomacy came in an action-packed day at the U.N. General Assembly, where Netanyahu told global leaders that Iran will have enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon by next summer. He also drew a "red line" across a drawing of a bomb on a poster, reminding everyone of his demand for President Barack Obama to declare when the U.S. might attack Iran. Obama has rejected the demand.
It is getting "late, very late" to stop the Iranian nuclear threat, Netanyahu said at the United Nations.
"Red lines don't lead to war; red lines prevent war," he said.
The Islamic republic insists its program is solely for peaceful energy and medical research purposes, while the U.S. and many Western and Sunni Arab states see that as a cover for developing nuclear arms. But there is disagreement on how to stop Iran, with Obama insisting there is more time for diplomacy and hard-hitting sanctions while Netanyahu presses for a military response.
That spat has spilled over into Obama's bid for re-election, with Republican challenger Mitt Romney accusing the president of being weak on Iran. Romney has promised a more credible threat of military action and closer alignment of U.S. policy with Netanyahu's positions — an argument that resonates with some Jewish and pro-Israel evangelical Christian voters.
Neither presidential candidate, however, advocates clearly for military action.
An attack on Iran's nuclear facilities would surely prompt retaliation. Iran could seek to disrupt fuel supplies from the Persian Gulf, through which about one-fifth of the world's oil flows, or it can support proxies such as Hezbollah to attack Israel or U.S. allies in the Gulf. A worst-case scenario might see the U.S. dragged into another major war in the Muslim world at a time of staggering American debt and continued economic struggles.
Obama and Netanyahu will probably speak by telephone Friday, the White House said, after Clinton's meetings. She is doing the bulk of America's diplomatic work at this year's gathering of global leaders in New York, with Obama ruling out any bilateral meetings with presidents or prime ministers so he can spend more time campaigning for re-election.
First, Clinton gathers at the U.N. with the foreign ministers of Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — powers that have sought, over several rounds of negotiations, to convince Iran to comply with its nuclear negotiations. All such efforts have failed so far. The latest efforts collapsed this summer after proposals from Iran that Clinton termed "nonstarters."
She'll meet at a New York hotel with Netanyahu, who has played down the impact of economic and diplomatic restrictions on Iran and criticized previous high-level diplomatic talks for only giving more time to Iran to press ahead with uranium enrichment.
But Washington insists its sanctions campaign is severely damaging Iran's economy. And a new report from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, leaked Thursday, concluded that oil exports sank by more than 50 percent in the past year and that measures on the central bank have made it difficult for the regime to access its foreign currency. Details appeared in the Haaretz newspaper.