Thursday, July 23, 2009

Clinton's 'Defense Umbrella' Stirs Tensions

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, center, arrives in Phuket, Thailand, on Wednesday for the Asean meeting, amid human-rights concerns in Myanmar.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton caused waves in the Middle East during her visit to Southeast Asia, telling a Thai television program that Washington could extend a "defense umbrella" to protect its Arab allies if Iran succeeds in developing nuclear weapons.

Surround Iran with a nuclear threat to contain it. Sounds a rather familiar strategy: Soviet containment.

She also warned Southeast Asian nations about North Korea potentially exporting nuclear technology to their neighbor Myanmar, and sought the help of foreign ministers in ensuring North Korea's "irreversible denuclearization."

Myanmar with a nuclear capability?

But her comments on Iran left the impression among some Middle East diplomats Wednesday that the U.S. envisions having to find ways to defend its Persian Gulf allies from a nuclear-armed Iran -- rather than preventing Tehran from ever getting that far.

Well, it is not a new policy, goes the spin of a "senior U.S. official close to Mrs. Clinton."

But to some Middle East diplomats, the idea of a "defense umbrella" sounded like a nuclear shield reminiscent of the strategy Washington employed against the Soviet Union during the Cold War -- suggesting the Obama administration was contemplating the need to contain Iran's nuclear program, if it can't be eliminated.

Having an "if" option is prudent and responsible, but hinting at it publicly is something entirely different. For the Secretary to say so wasn't a slip, but an intended signal, a clear message.

Israel's minister of intelligence and atomic energy, Dan Meridor, told a military radio station that Mrs. Clinton's remarks indicated that the U.S. had "already come to terms with a nuclear Iran," he said, according to the Associated Press. "I think that's a mistake."

Israel will nto allow Iran to have a bomb; not if it can help it. Arab states, on the other hand, want the shield, and wwant Washington to be more aggressive.

"The danger in the statement [by Mrs. Clinton] is the implication that the defense umbrella will only be extended if or when Iran gains a nuclear capability," said the Arab official.

Don't want until it is a fact that Iran has a nuclear capacity; start now. Moscow, Beijing and Delhi may not go along with putting more pressure on Tehran. In fact, the recent instability in Iran is being cited as a reason to give Tehran more time to respond.

Meanwhile, U.S. and United Nations officials acknowledge that Tehran's nuclear activities continue unimpeded. Officials from the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, have reported that Tehran is moving close to amassing enough low-enriched uranium to produce a nuclear weapon, provided the material is processed further to weapons grade. Once Iran reaches this breakout capability, said U.S. and Middle East officials, the strategic balance in the Middle East could begin to shift and prompt other regional countries to pursue nuclear programs.

Thus, Russia, China and India are ready to accept Iran having a nuclear capability. Surely the first two want to prevent the US consolidating its hegemony in the region; perhaps India does, as well.

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