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Clinton Warns Iran That Offer To Talk Won’t Always Be On Table

  • Heather Maher

"Neither the president nor I have any illusions that dialogue with the Islamic republic will guarantee success of any kind," said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"Neither the president nor I have any illusions that dialogue with the Islamic republic will guarantee success of any kind," said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of State Clinton has warned Iran that the U.S. offer to engage with it diplomatically “will not remain open indefinitely,” and said the time for the Islamic republic to act “is now.”

With that, the United States’ top diplomat signaled that President Barack Obama’s belief that engagement with Iran might succeed where sanctions have failed only extends so far.

Clinton delivered her remarks in what was billed as a major foreign-policy speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, on the eve of a trip to India and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) conference in Thailand.

Clinton made clear that the Iranian government’s violent crackdown on democracy protesters after disputed presidential elections last month has deeply strained Washington’s patience.

"We watched the energy of Iran's election with great admiration, only to be appalled by the manner in which the government used violence to quell the voices of the Iranian people and then tried to hide its actions by arresting foreign journalists and nationals and expelling them and cutting off access to technology," Clinton said. "As we and our G8 partners have made clear, these actions are deplorable and unacceptable."

Importance Of Engaging


Clinton’s tough language echoed Obama’s own words during the crisis. But she also renewed the United States’ offer to sit down at the negotiating table with Iran’s leaders, saying that the long-standing U.S. policy of nonengagement has not succeeded in altering Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon, reducing its support of terror, or improving its human rights record.

We and our Afghan allies stand ready to welcome anyone supporting the Taliban who renounces Al-Qaeda, lays down their arms, and is willing to participate in the free and open society that is enshrined in the Afghan Constitution.
"Neither the president nor I have any illusions that dialogue with the Islamic republic will guarantee success of any kind. And the prospects have certainly shifted in the weeks following the election," she said.

"But we also understand the importance of offering to engage Iran and giving its leaders a clear choice, whether to join the international community as a responsible member or to continue down a path to further isolation. Direct talks provide the best vehicle for presenting and explaining that choice."

Despite the shift in U.S. policy, Iran has not yet responded to diplomatic overtures and remains defiant about what it calls its peaceful pursuit of nuclear civilian energy.

The international community doesn’t see Iran’s program as innocent, though, and Clinton repeated its determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear military capacity. Civil nuclear power is acceptable, she said, if the government “reestablishes the confidence of the international community that it will use its programs exclusively for peaceful purposes."

September Deadline

Leaders at last week’s G8 meeting in L’Aquila, Italy, set a deadline of September’s UN General Assembly meeting for an answer from Iran on whether it will negotiate with the United States and its partners on its nuclear program.

Iran's foreign minister, Manuchehr Mottaki, said recently that Tehran was preparing a new package of "political, security, and international" issues to present to the West, but offered no details.

Clinton's speech marked something of a reemergence into the spotlight for the secretary of state, who has been keeping a low profile for the past month as she recuperates from a broken elbow.

After canceling two overseas trips and several meetings with visiting world leaders, she heads off on July 16 for a diplomatic mission to India and Thailand.

Apart from indicating that the U.S. may at some point withdraw its offer to talk with Iran, the speech contained nothing that hasn’t been articulated before, either by Clinton or Obama. As she has done many times previously, Clinton spoke about the White House’s plan to achieve its foreign policy goals with what it calls “smart power,” a combination of defense, diplomacy, and development.

She said that it translates into specific policy approaches in five areas.

"First, we intend to update and create vehicles for cooperation with our partners," Clinton said. "Second, we will pursue principled engagement with those who disagree with us. Third, we will elevate development as a core pillar of American power. Fourth, we will integrate civilian and military action in conflict areas. And fifth, we will leverage key sources of American power, including our economic strength and the power of our example."

Diplomacy First

Smart power also means trying diplomacy first, even with adversaries or nations with whom the United States disagrees, she said, and it was seemingly in that spirit that Clinton sent a message to Afghan citizens who support the Taliban.

"Now, we understand that not all those who fight with the Taliban support Al-Qaeda or believe in the extremist policies that [the] Taliban pursued when in power," she said. "And today, we and our Afghan allies stand ready to welcome anyone supporting the Taliban who renounces Al-Qaeda, lays down their arms, and is willing to participate in the free and open society that is enshrined in the Afghan Constitution."

Much of the speech focused on the theme of democracy. Clinton said the United States is committed to supporting and encouraging democratic governments who protect the rights of their people, and promised that “liberty, democracy, justice, and opportunity” underlie the administration’s foreign policy priorities.

Overall, Clinton said the international agenda was "unforgiving," with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and conflict in the Middle East, as well as the threat of violent extremism and nuclear proliferation.

Given the length and varied list of challenges, Clinton said the United States would "remain clear-eyed” about its goals, adding “not everybody in the world wishes us well or shares our values and interests.”
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