Clinton: Iran’s leaders, not US, to blame for sanctions as country hit by protests

Iran could put an end to sanctions that are debilitating its economy “in short order” if only it would cooperate with international calls to abandon its alleged nuclear weapons program, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday. 

Clinton made the comments as hundreds of protesters clashed with riot police in Tehran over the surging price of staples as the value of the national currency, the rial, hit an all-time low this week. The comments are likely to disappoint Republican lawmakers who want to keep pressure on Iran in the hopes of sparking regime change.

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Iranian leaders, Clinton told reporters, “have made their own government decisions — having nothing to do with the sanctions — that have had an impact on the economic conditions inside of the country.”

“Of course the sanctions have had an impact as well, but those could be remedied in short order if the Iranian government were willing to work with the ... international community in a sincere manner.”

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said during her daily briefing Wednesday that sanctions are only aimed at getting Iran to abandon its alleged nuclear weapons program. Iran says its program is for civilian purposes.

“We have no quarrel with the Iranian people. We don't want the Iranian people to suffer,” Nuland said. “We want to see the Iranian government change course in their discussions with us. If they change course, then we are prepared to match steps with steps with steps, but this — this pressure is real because our concern is very real and we're not going to allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.”

The issue of U.S. relations with Iran has taken a prominent role in the presidential campaign, as GOP nominee Mitt Romney has charged the administration with not doing enough to stop Tehran's nuclear program.

Romney has said he would implement "crippling sanctions" if elected and has pressed the administration to heed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's calls for the White House to clarify "red lines" it will not allow Iran to cross.

The administration, though, has said that sanctions have begun to work and that it needs more time for them to take effect, while insisting that all options to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear capability are on the table.

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