June 26, 2012

Clinton and Baker on Iran, Israeli strikes, and diplomacy

In an interview with Charlie Rose at the State Department  last Wednesday, June 20, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Former Secretary of State James Baker discussed the role of diplomacy in resolving US- Iranian tensions [watch the interview here, read the transcript here].
Baker said the U.S. must pursue all non-military means to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon, but if those efforts fail, the U.S. would have to “take them out.”   Clinton insisted that diplomatic options for dealing with Iran had not yet been exhausted, and warned that a foreign attack could unify and legitimize the regime. She said,  there are some hardliners in Iran who ” are saying the best thing that could happen to us is be attacked by somebody, just bring it on, because that would unify us, it would legitimize the regime.” Instead of giving the hardliners this credibility, Clinton said of the diplomatic process that the US should “take this meeting by meeting and pursue it as hard as we can” in order to find a peaceful agreement.
Both Secretaries of State agreed that Israeli strike would merely strengthen  Iran’s influence and that such a strike was not a solution.  Former Secretary Baker stated that Israel simply does not have the capability to intervene militarily in Iran. He suggested an Israeli strike would have a multitude of adverse side effects, referencing comments by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that “if Israel hits the Iranian nuclear facilities, we’re going to lose a lot of American lives in the region.” Within the Israeli national security establishment, Baker pointed out, many “have come out publicly now and questioned their leadership’s view that maybe Israel ought to do it.”
Clinton reiterated that the US strategy “was to be willing to engage with them [the Iranians] but to keep a very clear pressure track going.” Though she stated that “deep down it’s not a legitimate regime,” but that “the Iranian people deserve better but that it is for them to try to determine.” At the same time, both Clinton and Baker said containing Iran could not be a long-term strategy.
On Syria, Clinton said that the US is “focused on dealing with Iran and the nuclear portfolio,” and would oppose including Iran in discussions on providing stability to stabilize Syria and stop the massacre. Clinton said that the US was interested in supporting movements for regime change and Iran is not. From the US State Department’s view, she said, Assad’s “legitimacy has gone” and, as a result, “at this point it would be very difficult for Iran to be initially involved” in this issue.
But Clinton agreed with Baker that “there might be a place for [the Iranians] in a group with respect to Afghanistan”, adding that “every country who’s surrounding Afghanistan has a huge interest in a stable Afghanistan.” Clinton suggested that, “Iran oftentimes is not a constructive player, but we’re going to keep them at the table and try to do what we can on behalf of Afghanistan for them to be a more positive force.”

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