Hillary Clinton Says White House Has Mishandled Iran
John O'Neil, The New York Times:
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton last night criticized the Bush administration for its response to Iran's nuclear program, saying it had chosen to "downplay" the crisis over the past several years. In a speech at Princeton University, Mrs. Clinton, a New York Democrat, joined the Bush administration's call for sanctions against Iran, and also said that the threat of military action against nuclear sites should not be ruled out.Bush was attacked for his unilateral approach in the build up over Iraq, now they attack him for his multilateral approach on Iran. But the question needs to be what would direct talks with the Iranian government get us? They would ended at the same place. But such "one on one talks" would have confused the Iranian people that have long feared that we might some day sell out our support for their democratic struggle for the regime's promise to end its nuclear program.
But she was critical of the administration for letting European nations take the lead in negotiations over the last several years.
"I believe that we lost critical time in dealing with Iran because the White House chose to downplay the threats and to outsource the negotiations," Ms. Clinton said, according to a transcript of the speech published by The Daily Princetonian. "I don't believe you face threats like Iran or North Korea by outsourcing it to others and standing on the sidelines." READ MORE
Since 2002 Britain, France and Germany have led talks meant to assure that Tehran's nuclear program would not give it the capacity to build weapons. The three countries last week declared that Iran's decision to resume nuclear research had brought the talks to an end, and, with the United States in support, asked that the matter be sent to the United Nations Security Council for possible action.
The Bush administration has long favored sanctions, but had deferred action at the request of the European nations, who convinced Iran in 2003 to suspend its nuclear program. Mr. Bush last week said that he would pursue a vigorous diplomatic push to get as many countries as possible on board for possible United Nations action. On North Korea, the Bush administration has refused that nation's request for direct talks over its nuclear program and instead has worked in concert with China, South Korea, Russia and Japan.
Iran today continued to give mixed signals in reaction to the push for a United Nations referral. Its oil minister, Davoud Danesh-Jafari, told the official Iranian news agency that "in case of sanctions, other countries will suffer as well as Iran."
"One of the consequences will be the unleashing of a crisis in the oil sector and particularly a price hike," he said, according to Reuters.
At the same time, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, told the BBC that his country wanted a compromise and hoped to resume the European talks.
"They should not ask a brave nation with very good scientists not to engage in nuclear research," he said. "If they want guarantees of no diversion of nuclear fuel we can reach a formula acceptable to both sides."
The United States and Europe have made clear that they will not accept any program that includes research that would give Tehran the know-how to develop weapons.
In her Princeton speech, Ms. Clinton spoke of the gravity of Iran's program in terms similar to those used by the Administration.
"Let's be clear about the threat we face," Ms. Clinton said. "A nuclear Iran is a danger to Israel, to its neighbors and beyond."
"We cannot and should not - must not - permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons," she said. "In order to prevent that from occurring, we must have more support vigorously and publicly expressed by China and Russia, and we must move as quickly as feasible for sanctions in the United Nations."
The United States and the European nations have called for an emergency meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency on Feb. 2, and have begun circulating a draft resolution that would refer Iran to the Security Council.
Russia and China have both expressed opposition to sanctions, at least at this point, and are reluctant even to support a Security Council referral. The United States and the European nations have sought to reassure Russia and China that, for now, referral to the Security Council will not necessarily lead to sanctions.
Last week, Senator Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat, said that the Bush administration was correct in not ruling out possible military action to block an Iranian nuclear weapons program, but stressed that force should only be used after every other measure had been exhausted.
In general, Democrats have been supportive of the administration decision to take a back seat to the Europeans in negotiations, and many have expressed alarm whenever the conservative Republicans engaged in a more aggressive posture toward Iran.
Ms. Clinton's speech last night laid out a markedly tougher approach. She has already been under fire from many liberal activists in the Democratic party for her support of the war in Iraq and refusal to call for an immediate American pullout.
Iraq also figured in Ms. Clinton's speech, as she so drew a link between the Iranian conflict and events there. Shiite parties with close links to Iran appear to have been the biggest winners in last month's Iraqi elections, whose final results are to be released soon.
"Part of the problem that we confront with Iran today is, of course, its involvement in and influence over Iraq," she said.
Ms. Clinton said she was against an immediate military pullout, but said the American military commitment should not be "open ended."
"If last December's elections lead to a successful Iraqi government, that should allow us to start drawing down our troops during this year while leaving behind a smaller contingent in safe areas with greater intelligence and quick-strike capabilities," she said.
"That will help us stabilize the new Iraqi government," Ms. Clinton said. "It will send a message to Iran that they do not have a free hand in Iraq despite their considerable influence and personal and religious connections there."
But other than direct talks with Iran, it appears that her solutions are the same that Bush is presently taking.