News / Middle East

Clinton Defends Administration Outreach to Iran

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday the Obama administration's diplomatic outreach to Iran in past months has helped its current effort to line up world support for new sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program. Administration Iran policy came under Republican criticism at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.

The issue of Iran's nuclear program dominated proceedings for a second straight day, as Clinton appeared at Congressional hearings to defend the administration's $53 billion foreign affairs budget for the coming year.

At a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting, Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher suggested that while it may have pleased U.S. European allies, outreach to Iran in the early months of the Obama administration was seen as a sign of weakness by Iranian leaders.

"Playing to our liberal nilly-willy friends in Europe is less important for us than being tough with the mullah-repressive regime, a murderous regime, that is engaged in murdering people of their streets," Rohrabacher said.  "Don't you think that this conciliatory tone, which as you just admitted, certainly has not been accepted by the mullahs, has in some way depressed or at least hurt the spirit on the streets of Iran of those young people who are trying to struggle to end this Mullah regime?" He asked

Clinton acknowledged to Rohrabacher that U.S. overtures to Iran by various means to discuss its nuclear program and other issues have not drawn a response.

But she said it was always a two-track approach that threatened penalties against Iran if it spurned dialogue on the nuclear issue, and that the engagement effort has brought the administration "an enormous amount of credibility and goodwill" in its current drive for new sanctions.

She said the two-track strategy enjoys broad support among members of the Iranian opposition, including former prisoners with whom she has spoken.

"They actually think President Obama has struck exactly the right tone and approach, to give heart to the people who are putting their lives on the line, who know that we support their efforts, but also recognize that they've got a long hard road ahead. And what we're trying to do is to get international opinion that will force the Iranian regime to change its calculations," she said.

Clinton said Iran's refusal to respond, and what she termed a litany of acts of defiance on the nuclear issue "demonstrate what the facts are" concerning its ambitions for a nuclear capability, and have improved prospects for effective international sanctions.

"I think because we were willing to engage, we have a much more receptive audience than we might have had otherwise," said Clinton.  "And I think that our efforts to move forward in the [U.N.] Security Council should not be viewed as our exclusive effort. Because we've stated clearly, we will look at additional bilateral, and preferably multi-lateral sanctions with willing nations, on top of whatever we get out of the Security Council," she added.

Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful but Clinton has recently spoken about what she termed that country's "pursuit of nuclear weapons."

She told Senators at hearings Wednesday progress is being made in convincing permanent Security Council members Russia and China on the need for more sanctions, and that she expects a resolution to be debated in the council in the next 30 to 60 days.

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