Clinton warns China to stay the course on Iran nuclear sanctions

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned China on Friday that it faced international pressure and increasing isolation unless it joined other world powers in sanctioning Iran to try to halt Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

The admonishment from Clinton came on the same day the Pentagon announced more than $6 billion in arms sales to Taiwan, a move certain to infuriate Beijing and add a new complication to the U.S.-Chinese relationship.

Clinton, speaking at a leading French military academy in Paris, said that China and five other leading nations had been united in trying to persuade Iran to halt uranium enrichment that they fear is aimed at developing nuclear weaponry.

But now that China is balking at joining the others in a new round of United Nations sanctions, Clinton said, “China will be under a lot of pressure to recognize the destabilizing impact that a nuclear-armed Iran would have in the [Persian] Gulf, from which they receive a significant percentage of their own supplies.”

She told an audience of military experts and officers at the Ecole Militaire that “we understand that right now it seems counterproductive to you to sanction a country from which you get so much of the natural resources your growing economy needs.”

But she said Beijing “needs to think about the longer-term implications.”

Clinton said an Iranian nuclear bomb would produce an arms race and would convince Israel that it faces an “existential threat. . . . All of that is incredibly dangerous.”

U.S. officials believe they have finally persuaded Russia to join with France, Britain, Germany and the United States in a new round of United Nations sanctions. All except Germany are permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, leaving China as the remaining holdout. Beijing argues that the other world powers should continue to use diplomacy to nudge the Iranians into cooperation.

U.S. officials have argued in the past that China would not continue to hold out against sanctions if Russia joined the Western powers. But as recently as Thursday, when Clinton met with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, China had not relented.

Washington’s relations with the Chinese have recently hit a rough patch. After Clinton called China to account for Internet censorship this month, the Chinese Foreign Ministry complained that her speech had harmed U.S.-Chinese relations. On Thursday, in an appearance before reporters, she was conciliatory, saying that there were multiple views on the issue of how fully China was controlling Internet access in the country.

But a new source of likely friction emerged Friday in the announcement by the Pentagon that it had approved the arms sales to Taiwan.

The $6-billion package, which has been expected, does not include F-16 fighter jets, which Taiwan has sought. Under the deal as formally announced, Taiwan will buy 60 Black Hawk helicopters, more than 100 Patriot antiaircraft missiles, two mine-hunting ships and other items.

China objects to the sale, and U.S. officials acknowledged that it could result in a suspension of U.S.-China military ties. In Beijing, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei called U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr. today to register his government’s displeasure.

The sale has been in the works for weeks, and administration officials have argued that China should not be angry, even though it pumps new weaponry into the island, which Beijing views as a renegade province.

“We have to be mature enough . . . to continue to focus on this and do the hard work it requires to continue to engage, even when times get tough,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said this week.

At the same appearance in Paris, Clinton sought to reassure a nervous Europe that the Obama administration remained fully committed to its defense.

Speaking as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization reconsiders its core mission, Clinton acknowledged that some Europeans fear that the United States may not believe Europe needs help with its security, while others are worried that the administration “is so focused on foreign policy challenges elsewhere in the world that Europe has receded on our list of priorities.”

But she insisted that “European security is an anchor of U.S. foreign policy.”

The Obama administration is relying heavily on European support on Iran and Afghanistan. But Europeans have seen a variety of what they fear are worrisome signs of wandering attention.

Some Eastern European countries are concerned by the administration’s decision to back away from a joint missile defense program, developed during the Bush administration, that was to have been based in central Europe. Other allies, including Ukraine and Georgia, have sought assurances that the United States will stand with them in the face of attempts by Russia to assert a sphere of influence.

On that issue, Clinton said, “We object to any spheres of influence in Europe in which one country seeks to control another’s future.”

She said that sovereignty and territorial integrity were “the cornerstone of security.”

She also made it clear that the United States would not accede to Russian pressure to negotiate a broad new international security treaty to more fully integrate Russia into the European security framework.

Some critics have said that Russia is seeking to reshape treaty agreements to give it more leverage to block NATO decisions.

Clinton also said that the U.S. retained “an unwavering commitment” to Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which calls for all members to come fully to the defense of any other.

At the same time, Clinton offered a separate message for the Russians that security should not be a “zero-sum game.” With the Cold War over, there is no reason for there to be “divisions between neighbors and partners,” she said. “Security in Europe must be indivisible.”

Clinton said that the Obama administration had inherited a “deteriorating relationship with Russia,” but has made progress on a number of areas, including Afghanistan, Iran’s nuclear program and the negotiation of a new version of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which officials say is close to completion.

NATO officials are in the middle of a series of meetings designed to reconsider the alliance’s central principles before a high-level meeting on the subject in December.

Times staff writers Julian E. Barnes in Washington and Barbara Demick in Beijing contributed to this report.