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Hillary on Iran and Israel

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spent the full hour yesterday on "Meet the Press." While David Gregory, for some reason, never got around to asking her about the Israeli-Palestinian issue or setttlements (yet did ask her about Obama and Skip Gates), they did talk about Iran. Clinton said Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon is "futile" and said the message to Israel is "the United States stand with you, the United States believes that Israel has a right to security.  We believe, however, that this approach we’re taking holds out the promise of realizing our common objective." Here’s the transcript of that portion of the interview:

MR. GREGORY:  Let me turn to another hot spot, and that is Iran.  A big headline this week, again, with your words:  "Clinton’s `Defense Umbrella’ Stirs Tensions." The headlines goes on, "Suggests U.S. Will Have to Protect Allies From Nuclear-Armed Iran." You were in Bangkok on Wednesday, and this is what you said that got this started.

(Videotape, Wednesday)

SEC’Y CLINTON:  We want Iran to calculate what I think is a fair assessment, that if the United States extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to support the military capacity of those in the Gulf, it’s unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer, because they won’t be able to intimidate and dominate as they apparently believe they can once they have a nuclear weapon.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  Did you mean to suggest that the U.S. is considering a nuclear umbrella that would say to nations in the Arab world that an attack on you, just like NATO or Japan is an attack on the United States, and the United States would retaliate?

SEC’Y CLINTON:  Well, I think it’s clear that we’re trying to affect the internal calculus of the Iranian regime.  You know, the Iranian government, which is facing its own challenges of legitimacy from its people, has to know that that a pursuit of nuclear weapons, something that our country along with our allies stand strongly against.  We believe as a matter of policy it is unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons.  The G-8 came out with a very strong statement to that effect coming from Italy.  So we are united in our continuing commitment to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.  What we want to do is to send a message to whoever is making these decisions that if you’re pursuing nuclear weapons for the purpose of intimidating, of projecting your power, we’re not going to let that happen.  First, we’re going to do everything we can to prevent you from ever getting a nuclear weapon.  But your pursuit is futile, because we will never let Iran–nuclear-armed, not nuclear-armed, it is something that we view with great concern, and that’s why we’re doing everything we can to prevent that from ever happening.

MR. GREGORY:  All right, but let’s be specific.  Are you talking about a nuclear umbrella?

SEC’Y CLINTON:  We, we are, we are not talking in specifics, David, because, you know, that would come later, if at all.  You know, my view is you hope for the best, you plan for the worst.  Our hope is–that’s why we’re engaged in the president’s policy of engagement toward Iran–is that Iran will understand why it is in their interest to go along with the consensus of the international community, which very clearly says you have rights and responsibilities.  You have a right to pursue the peaceful use of civil nuclear power.  You do not have a right to obtain a nuclear weapon.  You do not have the right to have the full enrichment and reprocessing cycle under your control.  But there’s a lot that we can do with Iran if Iran accepts what is the international consensus.

MR. GREGORY:  One of the big challenges here is preventing Israel from acting first; if they feel there’s an existential threat, would they strike out at Iran to take out a nuclear program.  And there’s been various positions taken within the administration about that.  Vice President Biden just a couple of weeks ago said this on ABC:  "We cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do when they make a determination, if they make a determination, that they are existentially threatened and their survival is threatened by another country." Meantime, Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said, "Well, I have been for some time concerned about any strike on Iran [by Israel].  I worry about it being very destabilizing, not just in and of itself, but the unintended consequences of a strike like that." Where do you fall on the spectrum of the administration views about the impact of a strike by Israel?

SEC’Y CLINTON:  Well, let me say that I personally don’t see the contradiction here.  The vice president was stating a fact.  Israel is a sovereign nation. Any sovereign nation facing what it considers to be an existential threat, as successive Israeli governments have characterized the possibility of Iran having a nuclear weapon would mean to them, is not going to listen to other nations, I mean, if they believe that they are acting in the furtherance of their survival.  However, as Admiral Mullen said, you know, we continue to believe that very intensive diplomacy, bringing the international community together, making clear to the Iranians what the costs of their pursuit of nuclear weapons might be is the preferable route.  So clearly, we have a, a long, durable relationship with Israel.  We believe strongly that Israel’s security must be protected.  But we also believe that pursuing this path with Iran that we’re on right now, that frankly we’re bringing more and more people to see it our way–I thought the G-8 statement was quite remarkable in that sense–is the better approach for us to take.  So we will continue to work with all of our allies, and most particularly Israel, to determine the best way forward to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon state.

MR. GREGORY:  Defense Secretary Gates is on his way to Israel this week.  Is the message to the Israelis, "You got to hang tight here"?

SEC’Y CLINTON:  Well, also, General Jones will be there.  We have a full panoply of a lot of our national security team that will be meeting with comparable Israeli officials.  And our message is as it has been:  The United States stand with you, the United States believes that Israel has a right to security.  We believe, however, that this approach we’re taking holds out the promise of realizing our common objective.  And we want to brief the Israelis, we want to listen to the Israelis and we want to enlist the support of all of our allies and friends in moving forward on this policy.

MR. GREGORY:  Is Iran an illegitimate regime?

SEC’Y CLINTON:  You know, that’s really for the people of Iran to decide.  I have been moved by the, just the cries for freedom and, and the clear appeal to the Iranian government that this really significant country with a people that go back millennia that has such a great culture and history deserves better than what they’re getting.

MR. GREGORY:  But if the United States decides to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program, as has been the stated policy of the willingness to engage, are you not betraying this democratic movement trying to overthrow that regime?

SEC’Y CLINTON:  I don’t think so, David, because you can go back in history–and not, you know, very long back–where we have negotiated with many governments who we did not believe represented the will of their people.  Look at all the negotiations that went on with the Soviet Union.  Look at the breakthrough and subsequent negotiations with communist China.  That’s what you do in diplomacy.  You don’t get to choose the people; that’s up to the internal dynamics within a society.  But clearly, we would hope better for the Iranian people.  We would hope that there is more openness, that peaceful demonstrations are respected, that press freedom is respected.  Yet, we also know that whoever is in charge in Iran is going to be making decisions that will affect the security of the region and the world.

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