U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday the Obama administration still seeks dialogue with Iran despite what she called the Tehran government's deplorable and unacceptable use of violence to quell election protests. In a foreign policy speech, Clinton also left open the prospect of talks with moderate elements of Afghanistan's Taliban movement.
Clinton said the crackdown on those protesting the announced results of last months presidential election puts a new complexion on the Iranian government in the way it is perceived internationally.
But, she nonetheless said the United States should engage directly with Tehran authorities on issues like Iran's nuclear program and support for terrorism to determine if it wants to become a responsible member of the world community or continue on a path to further isolation.
The Secretary addressed the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington in a policy speech marking the upcoming six-month anniversary of the new administration, and on the eve of a key overseas trip by Clinton to India and Thailand.
Her speech and ensuing question and answer session stressed the Obama administration's exercise of so-called smart power that puts the use of diplomacy and developmental aid on a par with the military might.
She said that on Iran, the Bush administration made a mistake by refusing nuclear talks with Iran and outsourcing the policy process to others.
"Direct talks provide the best vehicle for presenting and explaining that choice," said Clinton. "That is why we offered Iran's leaders an unmistakable opportunity. Iran does not have a right to nuclear military capacity. We're determined to prevent that."
"But it does have a right to civil nuclear power if it reestablishes the confidence of the international community that it will use its program exclusively for peaceful purposes. Iran can become a constructive actor in the region if it stops threatening its neighbors and supporting terrorism," she added.
Clinton, who leaves Washington late Thursday on her first mission to India as secretary, told her audience she also plans a visit to Pakistan in the fall, where in both countries the struggle against Islamic extremism in the region will be a key issue.
She said U.S. national security as well as the future of Afghanistan depends on a stable, democratic and economically-viable Pakistan and that Washington applauds Pakistan's new determination to deal with militants who threaten that country.
She said the United States is fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan because it protects al-Qaeda, but made clear it is open to dealing with Taliban supporters willing to break with terrorists.
"We understand that not all those who fight with the Taliban support al-Qaeda or believe in the extremist policies the Taliban pursued while in power," she said. "And today we and our Afghan allies stand ready to welcome anyone supporting the Taliban who renounces al-Qaeda, lays down their arms and is willing to participate in the free and open society that is enshrined in the Afghan constitution."
The Secretary also stressed the Obama administration's renewed effort led by special envoy and former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell for a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
She repeated U.S. calls on Israel to stop settlement activity and the Palestinians to end incitement and bolster security. But she said the broader Arab world also needs to act now and emulate steps by the late leaders of Egypt and Jordan for outreach to Israel to create a climate for peace.
"Anwar Sadat and King Hussein crossed important thresholds, and their boldness and vision mobilized peace constituencies in Israel and paved the way for lasting agreements," said the secretary of state. "By providing support to the Palestinians, and offering an opening however modest the Israelis, the Arab states could have the same impact."
The Secretary, due to join ASEAN and other regional foreign ministers in security talks in Thailand on her trip, said the administration is helping organize a tougher joint effort to get North Korea back to negotiations for a de-nuclearized Korean peninsula.