WASHINGTON - In her first comprehensive policy address since becoming secretary
of state nearly six months ago, Hillary Clinton on Wednesday called for a
"multi-partner'' - as opposed to a "multi-polar" - world and defended President
Barack Obama's policy of engagement with adversaries, including Iran.
But she also warned Tehran that time is growing short for it to decide whether
to take up Washington's offer of direct negotiations on its nuclear program and
asserted that its repression of opposition forces that have protested last
month's disputed elections has "certainly shifted" the prospects for success of
any engagement policy.
"Iran can become a constructive actor in the region if it stops
threatening its neighbors and supporting terrorism," she said. "It can assume a
responsible position in the international community if it fulfills its
obligations on human rights."
"The choice is clear. We remain ready to engage with Iran, but the time for
action is now. The opportunity will not remain open indefinitely," she warned.
Speaking before the Washington office of the Council on Foreign Relations,
Clinton also called on Arab states to go beyond their 2002 peace proposal with
Israel and take additional steps demonstrating their acceptance of the Jewish
state in the region, as the US works to halt Israeli settlements and establish
conditions for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
"[Egyptian President] Anwar Sadat and [Jordan's] King Hussein crossed important
thresholds, and their boldness and vision mobilized peace constituencies in
Israel and paved the way for lasting agreements," she said. "By providing
support to the Palestinians and offering an opening, however modest, to the
Israelis, the Arab states could have the same impact."
Clinton's speech, which preceded her departure on Friday for a five-day trip to
India and Thailand, appeared designed both to offer a comprehensive framework
for US policy under Obama and to highlight the State Department's importance in
carrying it out.
Clinton's foreign policy role has in many ways been almost completely
overshadowed by Obama, whose speeches over the last three months - each one
devoted to a specific major foreign policy issue - in Prague, Cairo, Moscow and
Accra have dominated the headlines.
His appointment of special envoys to deal with Arab-Israeli peace and
Afghanistan and Pakistan - George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke, respectively
- has also reduced the State Department's profile on the administration's two
top regional priorities.
Finally, the fact that Clinton did not accompany Obama on his trip to last
week's Group of Eight summit, Russia, and Ghana - explained by the secretary's
recovery from a broken elbow - as well as reports that she was not informed in
advance about the administration's decision to send an ambassador to Syria
after a four-year hiatus, fed speculation that Foggy Bottom was being
Thus, Clinton's address on Wednesday, which was more comprehensive in scope
than Obama's speeches overseas, was seen in part as a re-assertion of her role
as a key part of the foreign policy team.
Describing a "new era of engagement" in US policy, she described the "heart of
America's mission in the world today" as "American leadership to solve problems
in concert with others".
While she stressed that none of the world's common problems - "from
non-proliferation to fighting diseases to counter-terrorism" - can be addressed
by one country alone, Clinton, in an echo of former secretary of state
Madeleine Albright's insistence that the US was the "indispensable nation",
insisted that "no challenge can be met without America".
"[W]e will lead by inducing greater cooperation among a greater number of
actors and reducing competition, tilting the balance away from a multi-polar
world and toward a multi-partner world," she declared, adding, "Our
partnerships can become power coalitions to constrain or deter those" who
"actively seek to undermine our efforts".
Washington's "smart power", as she called it, is based on five specific policy
First, Washington is reinvigorating "bedrock alliances", especially in Europe
and Asia, while putting "special emphasis on encouraging major and emerging
global powers - China, India, Russia and Brazil, as well as Turkey, Indonesia
and South Africa - to be full partners in tackling the global agenda".
A necessary aspect of this approach will be to transform and reform, where
necessary, global and regional institutions to ensure their "legitimacy and
representativeness, and the ability of their members to act swiftly and
responsibly when problems arise".
At the same time, she said, Washington will be "more flexible and pragmatic" in
dealing with its partners. "So we will not tell our partners to take it or
leave it, nor will we insist that they're either with us or against us. In
today's world, that's global malpractice," she said in one of a number of
implicit rebukes of the administration of former president George W Bush.
The second approach "is to lead with diplomacy, even in cases of adversaries or
nations with whom we disagree", she said in defense of Obama's engagement
The third and fourth approaches will be to "elevate and integrate development
as a core pillar of American power" and "ensure that civilian and military
efforts operate in a coordinated and complementary fashion where we are engaged
in conflict", as in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The last approach will be to "shore up traditional sources of our influence,
including economic strength and the power of our example", by, among other
things, banning torture and closing the Guantanamo detention facility and
joining global negotiations on climate change and arms control that Bush
administration had disdained or abandoned.
Her defense of engaging Iran also constituted an implicit critique of Bush. "We
know that refusing to deal with the Islamic Republic has not succeeded in
altering the Iranian march toward a nuclear weapon, reducing Iranian support
for terror, or improving Iran's treatment of its citizens," she said.
"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. But we also understand the
importance of offering to engage Iran and giving its clear choice: whether to
join the international community as a responsible member or to continue down a
path to further isolation," she said, adding that "[d]irect talks provide the
best vehicle for presenting and explaining that choice."
Moreover, "[e]xhausting the option for dialogue is also more likely to make our
partners more willing to exert pressure should persuasion fail," she noted.
Obama indicated last week that he will wait until September to see whether
Tehran takes up his offer of direct talks - sent in a secret message to Supreme
Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini in May, according to the Washington Times -
before deciding whether to tighten existing sanctions against Iran or seek new
ones. If talks get underway, he has said that he would defer a sanctions
decision until early next year.
On another government that Bush refused to engage, Clinton said Washington
considered Syria "a critical player in whatever we do in the Middle East", but
that it expected the renewed relationship to be "reciprocal".
"I'm hoping that the Syrian calculation of where they should be positionally
with respect to their relationship with Iran and their support for extremist
and terrorist activities will be changing so that we can pursue a two-way
engagement that will benefit both us and the larger region," Clinton told one
Mitchell is currently trying to re-open peace talks between Israel and Syria
that were suspended last year, according to reports.
Jim Lobe's blog on US foreign policy can be read at http://www.ips.org/blog/jimlobe/.