Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday by trying to talk Iran out of its nuclear program the U.S. is in a better position to organize tougher international sanctions in the event that diplomacy fails,
"We actually believe that by following the diplomatic path we are on, we gain credibility and influence with a number of nations who would have to participate in order to make the sanctions regime as tight and as crippling as we would want it to be," Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Iran denies that its nuclear program is intended to develop weapons.The official Iranian news agency IRNA reported Wednesday that Iran welcomes a "constructive" dialogue with world powers over its nuclear program, but insisted that it won't halt its uranium enrichment activities.
Clinton said the administration is confident that with the help of international partners, it can put together a comprehensive sanctions regime against Iran, "should we need it."
She said it would be needed "in the event we are unsuccessful or stonewalled in our other approach."
President Obama and Clinton have made humility a centerpiece of their foreign policy, drawing praise from world leaders and wrath from some Republicans at home.
Clinton testified before Congress Wednesday about "new beginnings" in the Obama administration's approach to the world. So far, Clinton and Obama's new approach has included frank assessments of past U.S. shortcomings.
• In France, Obama said that "there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive," failing "to appreciate Europe's leading role in the world."
• On the way to Mexico, Clinton said American demand for drugs and illegal weapons sales here is partly to blame for the drug violence south of the border.
• En route to Europe, Clinton called the multibillion-dollar U.S. reconstruction effort in Afghanistan "heartbreaking," because she said there is little to show for it.
• In the Dominican Republic, Clinton said she views the U.S. policy toward Cuba as having "failed."
London's Daily Telegraph said Obama "went further than any U.S. president in history in criticizing his own country's action while standing on foreign soil."
It's no stretch for two Democrats to criticize the policies of their Republican predecessors, but Obama and Clinton also have struck at deeper themes, such as the U.S. role in greenhouse-gas emissions, and "the past treatment of Native Americans," as Obama put it to the Turkish parliament.
Their comments have drawn scorn from conservatives such as Fox News' Sean Hannity, who referred to Obama's European trip as an "apology tour." Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote that Obama "came bearing a basketful of mea culpas."
In an interview with USA TODAY, former Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich compared Obama's foreign policy approach to that of Jimmy Carter, whose weakness, in Gingrich's view, led the Soviets to invade Afghanistan.
"You go around the world apologizing, what did you get for it?" Gingrich said. "Are the Europeans sending more combat troops to Afghanistan? No. Are the sanctions on Iran tougher? No."
Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to secretary of State Colin Powell and is a frequent critic of the George W. Bush administration, said Obama and Clinton were delivering long-overdue candor. "What a refreshing moment it is to have a president who not only knows well how to use the bully pulpit but the courage to do so," he said in an e-mail.
There appeared to have been some modest results: Shortly after Obama rolled back some travel restrictions for Cuban Americans going to Cuba, President Raúl Castro said he was open to talks with the United States, including the subjects of human rights, freedom of the press and political prisoners.
On Tuesday, however, former president Fidel Castro wrote in an essay that Obama had "without a doubt misinterpreted Raúl's declarations," according to the Associated Press.
Other foreign leaders have offered praise.
"You've changed America's relationship with the world," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told Obama during an April 1 news conference in London.
Contributing: Associated Press