News / Middle East

Hillary Clinton Cautious on Iran Talks

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton during the Chatham House Prize award ceremony in central London, Oct. 11, 2013.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton during the Chatham House Prize award ceremony in central London, Oct. 11, 2013.
Al Pessin
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says it is too soon to know whether the different approach to nuclear talks taken by Iran’s new government will result in real progress on the issue that has divided Iran and the international community for years.  Clinton spoke at Chatham House in London.

Former secretary Clinton was in office during several rounds of talks between Iran and the United Nations contact group known as the P5+1.  Those talks failed and led to strong international sanctions that are crippling the Iranian economy.

But much has happened since she left office in January, including the election of moderate President Hassan Rouhani, and his conciliatory words at the U.N. General Assembly last month.  He had his foreign minister meet with the P5+1, and he took a phone call from U.S. President Barack Obama.

But Clinton told the Chatham House gathering she is not convinced that what she called the more collegial and diplomatic approach signals in a real change in Iranian policy.  She said that may become clear at the next round of talks next week in Geneva.

“In Geneva next week, I will be most interested in hearing if the Iranians are putting any meat on the bones of their hope that there can be a negotiation that leads to a resolution that is satisfying to them and acceptable to us.  And I just think we don’t have any way of knowing that yet," said Clinton.

Clinton said Iran needs to make a substantive response to the longstanding proposal by the U.N. contact group for a series of steps that could reassure the international community about Iran’s nuclear program and lead to an easing of the sanctions.  

In a wide-ranging hour-long conversation with the Chatham House audience, Clinton also called for more robust efforts to strengthen the military capability of the moderate Syrian opposition.  She said the opposition’s leaders cannot be credible without a strong military behind them.  She also welcomed the agreement to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, and said it should be used as a first step toward reaching a political settlement of Syria’s civil war.

Clinton is in London to accept the annual Chatham House Prize for her contribution to diplomacy and her advocacy of gender equality.  In answer to the final question at the event, she endorsed a plan by Saudi women to stage a driving protest to demand the right to drive.  She called the Kingdom’s ban on women driving “hard to even rationalize.”

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