Monday, January 30, 2006

Clinton Calls for Closer US Links with Iran

Jenny Davey in Davos, The Times:
Bill Clinton, the former President of the United States, today called for America to forge closer links with Iran. The comments were echoed by Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, who offered conciliation over Iran’s nuclear programme, saying that talks had to allow Tehran to "preserve a sense of national dignity". Mr Clinton said he regretted he had failed to build relationships and contact with the country during his time in office.

"Anyone who becomes President and deals with foreign policy doesn’t want to look weak or naïve and you look around asking for people who deal with things in a PC way. One of the things in US politics is that we don’t talk to some people we don’t like.

"But we should have more person to person contact with Iranians. I should have promoted more of that ... You ought not to be scared to talk to anybody, you ought to have self confidence about what you believe in," he told delegates at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

"We put people in boxes and it is very hard to get beyond that. But we have to find ways to open up the boxes and I don’t see how you can do that without more contact." READ MORE

Mr Clinton said: "The current president of Iran is making it hard, when he denies the Holocaust and it leads you to be very cautious in the US. The current administration has shown restraint but I think other countries outside the US need to be vigilant."

Speaking to The Times at Davos following his speech, he said of the possibility of war with Iran: "I still think there is a good chance this can be worked out."

However, earlier, Mr Clinton had told delegates that "the world would be a much more unstable, dangerous place if [Iran] got usable weapons of mass destruction.

"They are three times the size of Iraq and have serious social problems," he said.

But he insisted that "all serious diplomatic means" should be exhausted in the United States before war was considered and called for the US to work hard on its relationships with Russia, India, China and Iran’s neighbours.

"We should not rule out any option, including sanctions from the UN, but we should not jump to the last option first. There would be an enormous political price to pay if they went to the last option, without exhausting all other options.

"The military options are not good and carry potential collateral political damage".

He also called for the world to move on from debating the rights and wrongs of the war with Iraq and work on solutions to improving the situation in the country. He said it be wrong for the US to prematurely withdraw its military from Iraq, but said it may be possible to draw down some troops and put in more intelligence forces in strategic positions to reduce their vulnerability.

"We shouldn't just precipitously give this thing up and say it can't work," he said. "If this thing works, it'll be a good thing for everybody in the Middle East. If it doesn't, it'll be trouble."