Clinton Reflects on Iran's Nuclear Ambitions

Clinton talks to ABC News about Obama's secret letter, detained U.S. journalist.

March 3, 2009, 3:02 PM

JERUSALEM, March 3, 2009— -- In an interview today with ABC News, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton weighed in on the detainment of an American journalist in Iran, as well as a letter President Obama sent to the Russian president.

On her first trip here to the Middle East as the nation's top diplomat, Clinton also reflected on Iran's nuclear ambitions and U.S. relations with nations like Syria and Israel.

"Iran's pursuit of the nuclear weapon is deeply troubling to not only the U.S. but many people throughout the world," Clinton said.

"We're at the beginning of this process of putting enormous pressure on Iran from all kinds of different angles in order to persuade them or prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons," Clinton added later.

Watch "World News With Charles Gibson" tonight at 6:30 ET for the full report

Clinton voiced her concern for American-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi, 31, after the Iranian government confirmed her arrest.

"This, unfortunately, demonstrates the nature of the Iranian government," Clinton said. "That a young Iranian-American woman journalist would be detained this way. The State Department has reached out to our Swiss contacts to ask for information and express our deep concern about this young woman's fate. We are going to use every tool at our disposal to try to bring her home."

Clinton also faced questions about the letter Obama sent to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev during his first month in office. U.S officials today said the letter contained an offer from Obama to back down on plans for a U.S. missile defense shield in Eastern Europe if Russian cooperation in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon is successful. Both of those issues have challenged U.S.-Russian relations in recent years.

"I'm not going to get into the content of the private letters that our president sent to the Russian president," Clinton said. "But I think it's well known that we have a broad range of issues to discuss with the Russians. I'll be starting that conversation this coming Friday."

U.S. Aims to Listen, Consult, Offer Best Efforts

Clinton plans to meet with her Russian counterpart in Geneva Friday before wrapping up her trip at the end of the week. She conceded that "among the issues we want to discuss is the threat posed by Iran" but stopped short of saying the United States would be willing to break down the missile defense in Europe if there is no pursuit of nuclear weapons.

"There's a lot of room for discussion, and I think it's important that we air these issues that we have as open an exchange as possible," Clinton said. "Because what we are seeking is a relationship with Russia where we can find areas to work with and cooperate, we think after vetting this issue with them, dealing with Iran can be one of them."

During her trip, Clinton also said the United States would send envoys to Syria as a step in healing relations with that nation. Clinton told ABC News today that the United States was at the beginning of the process, adding, "We'll see where it leads."

While in Israel, the secretary of state also said she met for more than an hour with Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu. Clinton pledged $900 million in U.S. aid to help Palestinians while speaking Monday at an international donors conference in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt.

With a third of the money directly slated for war-torn Gaza, Clinton said there would be tight restrictions to keep the money out of "the wrong hands," referring to those of the militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza. Some $400 million will go to the Palestinian Authority for "reform and development" in the West Bank and $200 million will go to help the Palestinian authority pay wages.

"We're going to listen, we're going to consult, we're going to offer our best efforts," Clinton said today. "We're going to try to work with the Israelis and Palestinians to move toward an agreement that would give Israel the security that it deserves to have and we'll provide the opportunity for helping move toward a viable state."

ABC News' Jake Tapper, Kate Barrett, Kirit Radia and Cait Taylor contributed to this story.