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Clinton: Iran Has 'Clear Opportunity' to Engage with US, Others

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that Iran has a clear opportunity, with the new Obama administration now in office, to engage meaningfully with the United States and others in the world community. She added that the six powers trying to negotiate an end to Iran's uranium enrichment program will meet next week.

Clinton reiterated interview comments by President Obama that his administration is ready for direct dialogue with Iran, but she suggested that it might be up to Tehran to make the first move.

In an informal talk on Tuesday with reporters at the State Department, Clinton said the Obama team is engaged in a broad review of Bush administration policy toward Iran, which limited U.S. contacts with that country to multi-lateral talks. She made clear that Iran itself could influence the review's outcome.

"There is a clear opportunity for the Iranians, as the President expresses in his [Al-Arabiya] interview, to demonstrate some willingness to engage meaningfully with the international community. Whether or not that hand becomes less clenched is really up to them," she said.

Clinton said the P5+1, the five permanent U.N. Security Council member countries plus Germany, will reconvene next week for the first time since President Obama took office to assess nuclear negotiations with Iran.

The P5+1, which is expected to meet next week at the political-director level in Germany, is one diplomatic vehicle from the Bush administration that will remain active in the Obama administration.

Clinton said other foreign policy vehicles used by former President Bush will remain in force, despite President Obama's commitment to change. She said the Chinese-sponsored six-party talks with North Korea on its nuclear program is another forum the new administration values.

"I think the six-party talks are essential. They've not only been a useful forum for the participants to deal with the challenge of North Korea's nuclear program and the other issues that are part of the North Korean agenda, but within the six-party talks, there have been bilateral [U.S.-North Korean] meetings. And we are going to pursue steps that we think are effective. And I think I'll leave it at that," she said.

The new Secretary of State said possible new U.S. policy moves in the Middle East will await the return of U.S. special envoy George Mitchell from his trip to the region. But she said achieving a durable cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, and attending to humanitarian needs in the Gaza Strip are the administration's near-term objectives.

Clinton made clear that Hamas bears most of the blame for the current situation for its rocket attacks on Israel in violation of the previous truce.

"That's why we support Israel's right to self-defense. The rocket barrages which were getting closer and closer to populated areas cannot go unanswered. And it's regrettable that the Hamas leadership apparently believes that it is in their interest to provoke the right of self defense instead of building a better future for the people of Gaza," she said.

Clinton said the Obama administration will work with the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas on Gaza relief efforts and that the United States, already the largest single contributor of aid to the Palestinians, intends to do more.