Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday the United States may offer a "defense umbrella" for U.S. allies in the Gulf, to deter Iran if it acquires nuclear weapons. Clinton, in Thailand for a regional dialogue with ASEAN foreign ministers, also says the United States is concerned about possible North Korean nuclear aid for Burma.
Clinton says the United States has not given up hope that Iran can still be persuaded by world powers to scrap a uranium enrichment project the United States and European allies believe is weapons related.
But she says, if the negotiating track fails and Iran acquires a nuclear weapons capacity, the United States will respond with "crippling" actions and is prepared to offer regional allies a "defense umbrella" to prevent Iranian intimidation.
Appearing on Thai television, the secretary's comments were some of the most pointed by any American official, thus far, about what Washington would do if Iran does acquire nuclear arms.
She says there is still a lot of opportunity for Iran to be dissuaded from its apparent course, through negotiations with the permanent U.N. Security Council member countries and Germany (P5 +1), who have offered Iran incentives to curb its nuclear activities.
If such efforts fail, Clinton says the United States will take action that would limit a nuclear Iran's ability to bully its neighbors.
"We want Iran to calculate what I think is a fair assessment that, if the United States extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to support the military capacity of those in the Gulf, it's unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer because they won't be able to intimidate and dominate as they apparently believe they can, once they have a nuclear weapon," she said.
Clinton says the negotiating track remains open but says the P5 +1 powers are "not going to keep the window open forever."
Officials traveling with Clinton in Thailand say her remarks on a defense umbrella reflect no change in American policy and that the United States has long been concerned that a nuclear Iran might spark an arms among worried neighbors.
In the Thai TV appearance, Clinton also gave direct voice to comments made earlier in Bangkok by senior members of her entourage that the United States is concerned about reports North Korea may be providing nuclear assistance to Burma.
She says she intends to discuss those concerns with Burma's neighbors at the ASEAN meeting, with the hope that there can be a unity in the region against Burmese cooperation with Pyongyang, which she says Washington is not sure has actually occurred.
"We want to try to focus attention by countries that have a direct relationship, or share have a border [with Burma], as Thailand does, to that there can be a united front against that happening," said Clinton. "I'm not saying that it is happening, but we want to be prepared to try to stand against it."
The senior officials in Clinton's party said North Korea has exported every major nuclear technology it has acquired, thus far. They said Burma may have been the intended destination of North Korean freighter that recently was being monitored at sea, but returned to port without delivering its cargo.
Clinton is holding separate meetings in Phuket with the foreign ministers of the other parties to the stalled Chinese-sponsored nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang.
North Korea has sent an envoy to the ASEAN regional forum. Clinton will not meet with the North Korean, but American officials do not rule out interaction with him by other members of the secretary's team.