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Secretary Clinton Urges Hard Stance on Iran’s Nuclear Goals

February 17, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton advised continuing to pressure Iran on its nuclear ambitions after her return from the Middle East Wednesday. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accused Clinton of lying and condemned the "bullying" of Western nations over its plans to enrich uranium.
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JEFFREY BROWN: Now: a high-flying, high-profile mission to rally support against Iran’s nuclear program.

Ray Suarez has that story.

RAY SUAREZ: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was at the White House today, reporting to President Obama on her Persian Gulf trip. Clinton sought this week to line up Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others against Iran’s nuclear program.

She warned, Iran is on its way to becoming a military dictatorship with a nuclear arsenal. And she said neighboring states need to get involved.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. secretary of state: We want not only a world free of nuclear weapons; we want a Middle East free of nuclear weapons, including everyone.

If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, that hope disappears, because, then, other countries which feel threatened by Iran will say to themselves, “If Iran has a nuclear weapon, I better get one, too, in order to protect my people.”

Then, you have a nuclear arms race in the region.

RAY SUAREZ: But, hours after Clinton left the region, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, railed today against what he called bullying by Western nations.

AYATOLLAH ALI KHAMENEI, supreme leader of Iran (through translator): We are not afraid. We clearly declare what is in our heart, and we know that it is in the heart of many nations and governments as well. We are against arrogant and bullying states. We are against the dominant system. We strongly oppose the dominance of a number of countries over the world’s fate. We fight that and won’t let them play with the world’s fate.

RAY SUAREZ: Khamenei also zeroed in on Clinton herself. State television quoted him as saying, “The Americans, once again, have dispatched their agent as a saleswoman to the Persian Gulf to spread lies.”

RAY SUAREZ: But Gregory Schulte, a former U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, says many in the Gulf region wanted to hear tough talk from the U.S. He’s now a fellow at the National Defense University in Washington.

GREGORY SCHULTE, former U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency: Sometimes, our Arab friends are worried that we are not quite tough enough with Iran.

I traveled a lot in my last job, when I was the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, to the Gulf states, to Saudi Arabia. And they wouldn’t like to talk about it publicly, but, privately, they were extremely concerned about Iran. They were concerned about Iran’s aggressive foreign policy, and they were concerned about the implications of Iran with nuclear weapons.

And I think many of them, many of the leaders, truly wanted us to take a more assertive position. So, my guess that, in many ways, her tough words are probably welcome there, even if the leaders won’t say that publicly.

RAY SUAREZ: And Cliff Kupchan of the Eurasia Group, says the Clinton trip was designed to make clear to Iran’s neighbors they are not alone.

CLIFF KUPCHAN, Eurasia Group: The secretary was out to send several messages, first, that we’re there for our Gulf allies, in the face of an increasing nuclear and geopolitical threat from Iran. Second, I think she’s trying to firm up support among the Gulf allies for sanctions. I mean, if these sanctions are going to work, there can’t be leakage.

RAY SUAREZ: The U.S. may be picking up new support on the question of sanctions. This week, France and Russia joined Washington in a letter to the IAEA. They questioned Iran’s claim that it wants enriched uranium solely for medical use.

The Eurasia Group’s Kupchan says, Russia and other countries are beginning to lean toward new penalties on Iran.

CLIFF KUPCHAN: I think the Russians, in my view, are likely to support targeted sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard, and may even support trade-related sanctions against Iran. Now, that’s a totally different Russian policy than we have seen as recently as a year ago.

RAY SUAREZ: But Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned Tuesday that those who try to impose sanctions will live to regret it. And Gregory Schulte, the former diplomat, says Arab leaders have told him privately diplomacy is useless against Tehran.

You’re saying that senior Arab officials have mentioned in meetings that they would be prepared to see an American strike against Iranian nuclear targets?

GREGORY SCHULTE: Let’s just say that I have been in meetings with — with senior officials in the region. I started talking about our diplomatic approach — and this was the last administration — and, at the end of the conversation, these senior leaders were telling me: “We don’t think diplomacy is going to be successful. And, oh, by the way, here are the targets that you might be interested in.”

RAY SUAREZ: Others, like Cliff Kupchan, doubt the U.S. is seriously contemplating military action against Iran. But he says the American approach is shifting.

CLIFF KUPCHAN: This is a qualitative change in U.S. policy. It’s not an outstretched hand. It’s more of a clenched fist. Make no doubt about that. We’re talking about sanctions. We’re talking, in elliptical fashion, about regime change, but not that much different from the way President Bush talked about it. We’re into a different Obama policy. It’s a tough one.

RAY SUAREZ: In the meantime, a British magazine, “New Statesman,” quoted Iran’s top nuclear negotiator as saying Iran will continue enriching uranium at any price, including the threat of military attack.