RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that Iran is sliding into a military dictatorship.
As the first high-level Obama administration official to make such an accusation, Clinton was reflecting an ever-dimming outlook for persuading Iran to negotiate limits on its nuclear program, which it has insisted is intended only for peaceful purposes.
The U.S. and others — including the two Gulf countries Clinton visited Sunday and Monday — believe Iran is headed for a nuclear bomb capability.
Clinton also was revealing the logic of the administration's plan to target the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps with a new round of international sanctions intended to compel Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions before it increases the likelihood of a military clash.
Clinton flew to Riyadh, the Saudi capital, where Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said the threat posed by Iran's nuclear ambitions demands a more immediate solution.
"Sanctions are a long-term solution. But we see the issue in the shorter term because we are closer to the threat," he said.
U.S. officials said privately that they were unsure of al-Faisal's meaning and that they were certain Saudi Arabia was not opposed to new sanctions. They said the Saudis have some doubt that sanctions can be effective. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in order to describe diplomatically sensitive conversations with the Saudi leadership.
Earlier in the day, in Doha, Qatar, Clinton spoke bluntly about Iranian behavior and what she called the Obama administration's view of Iran as increasingly dominated by the Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Her statements may have been designed to deepen what U.S. analysts see as growing fissures between Iran's regular armed forces and the Revolutionary Guards, whose authority has widened since the disputed presidential election in June.
"The evidence we've seen of this increasing decision-making (by the Revolutionary Guard) cuts across all areas of Iranian security policy, and certainly nuclear policy is at the core of it," Clinton told reporters flying with her from Doha to Saudi Arabia.
Asked if the U.S. was planning a military attack on Iran, Clinton said no.