New York Times: If Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton seemed especially fired up in criticizing Iran during her visit to the Persian Gulf this week, there was good reason for it: President Obama’s Iran policy is beginning to look a lot like candidate Clinton’s Iran policy. The New York Times
By MARK LANDLER
JIDDA, Saudi Arabia — If Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton seemed especially fired up in criticizing Iran during her visit to the Persian Gulf this week, there was good reason for it: President Obama’s Iran policy is beginning to look a lot like candidate Clinton’s Iran policy.
With the administration’s efforts to reach out to Iran having failed to produce a response, it is shifting to a more confrontational strategy that is tailor-made for Mrs. Clinton, a longtime skeptic of the value of engaging with Tehran. This, after all, is the woman who once warned that if she were president and Iran attacked Israel, the United States would “totally obliterate” Iran.
As the nation’s chief diplomat, Mrs. Clinton avoids that kind of excess in her statements. But only just. She declared on this trip that Iran was on its way to becoming a military dictatorship, that Iran’s religious and political leaders should seize back the reins of power from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and that Iran could ignite a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
“You have to ask yourself, ‘Why are they doing this?’ ” Mrs. Clinton said Tuesday to students at a women’s college here, in a bare-knuckles tone that she could have used at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania.
It is a measure of how much things have changed that Mr. Obama, who clashed repeatedly with Mrs. Clinton about how to deal with Iran during the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, has assigned her to drum up international support for a package of United Nations sanctions against Iran.
She has accepted the task with relish. Mrs. Clinton returned to the theme of the Revolutionary Guards often during the trip, twice briefing reporters in the back of her plane about it.
The administration’s concerns are shared. On Tuesday, Russia joined the United States and France in bluntly questioning Iran’s ultimate intentions in enriching uranium.
The three nations have signed a letter to the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog, saying that Iran’s uranium enrichment and its failure to notify the agency beforehand were “wholly unjustified, contrary to U.N. Security Council resolutions, and represent a further step toward a capability to produce highly enriched uranium.”
The letter, dated Feb. 12 and obtained from diplomatic officials in Washington, said that if “Iran goes forward with this escalation, it would raise new concerns about Iran’s nuclear intentions.”
A senior administration official said that the White House was not only comfortable with what Mrs. Clinton was saying about Iran, but was “grateful for her leadership on this in the region and at home.”
Certainly, Mrs. Clinton’s focus on the role of the Revolutionary Guards reflects the White House’s strategy. Officials there have decided to pursue new sanctions that would go after assets owned by the Guards because they are ripe targets — both the shadowy manager of Iran’s nuclear program and the brute force behind the crackdown on antigovernment protesters after the disputed presidential election in June.
White House officials dispute the idea that Mr. Obama’s effort at engaging Iran has failed. They say it has left Iran isolated abroad, racked by political divisions at home and facing a loss of influence, as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s claims to legitimacy as a regional leader have rung hollow.
These are the arguments for engagement that Mrs. Clinton laid out last February on her first overseas trip as secretary of state.
“Not everybody will unclench their fist,” she said then to reporters in South Korea, “but the message of our extended hand has an impact. When regimes decide that they don’t want to unclench their fist, I think that puts us in a stronger position. A lot of international diplomacy is a head game.”
The following month brought a blunt reminder of Mrs. Clinton’s pessimism about winning over Iran: a State Department spokesman reported that she had told the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates that Iran was unlikely to respond to Mr. Obama’s diplomatic overtures.
Even now, Mrs. Clinton says, the door is open to engagement. But after she declared that the Revolutionary Guards had usurped much of the political, economic and military power in Iran, it is not clear who she thinks would be on the other end of the line in Tehran.
The evolution from engagement to pressure benefits Mrs. Clinton. Early in the administration, the State Department seemed eclipsed by the White House in formulating Iran policy, a perception underscored when one of the senior Iran policy makers, Dennis B. Ross, decamped from the department for a job on the National Security Council.
The White House handled Mr. Obama’s early gestures to Iran, like his videotaped New Year’s greeting to the Iranian people. Letters to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, went out over the president’s signature.
But now Iran policy has shifted from bold gestures to the grinding diplomacy of drafting a Security Council sanctions resolution. That is the State Department’s forte. William J. Burns, a low-key diplomat who is the under secretary of state for political affairs, is a central player in that effort, shuttling among capitals to hash out acceptable language.
Mrs. Clinton is working to persuade allies and others that the world now needs to confront Iran. Speaking to the women at the Saudi college, she offered a lengthy indictment of Iran, not sparing them a technical discussion of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“Iran has threatened other countries,” she said. “Iran has funded terrorists who have launched attacks within other countries. Iran is the largest supporter of terrorism in the world today.”
The consequences of a nuclear Iran, Mrs. Clinton said, would be disastrous. She said that leaders in other Middle Eastern countries would say, “If Iran has a nuclear weapon, I better get one, too, to protect my people.”
She added, “Then you have a nuclear arms race in the region; then you have all kinds of opportunities for problems that could be quite dangerous.”