Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Phuket, Thailand on Wednesday.
July 23, 2009
Clinton Issues Warnings on North Korea and Iran
By MARK LANDLER
PHUKET, Thailand — Stiffening the American line against two nuclear-minded countries, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Wednesday that the United States would not offer North Korea any sweeteners to return to talks and would consider extending a “defense umbrella” over the Middle East if Iran does not heed calls to halt its nuclear weapons program.
Mrs. Clinton clarified later that her comments on Iran, delivered in advance of a regional meeting here, did not represent a change in the Obama administration’s policy, which is to prevent Tehran from obtaining a bomb. But her words suggested that the administration is at least contemplating how to cope with a nuclear-armed Iran, should all efforts at negotiation fail.
After meeting the foreign ministers of China, Russia, Japan and South Korea, Mrs. Clinton said they were united in demanding that North Korea undertake a “complete and irreversible denuclearization” before receiving any economic or political incentives from these countries.
She did not detail the steps that would be part of such a process, though she confirmed they could include the disabling of the Yongbyon nuclear facility, where the North Koreans are reprocessing fuel rods to recover plutonium, and the surrender of its plutonium stockpile.
“We do not intend to reward North Korea just for returning to the table, nor do we intend to reward them for actions they have already committed to taking and then reneged on,” Mrs. Clinton said at a news conference in this island resort, where Asian and other countries are meeting.
The United States has had an uncharacteristically visible presence at this gathering of the Association of South East Nations, or Asean. It signed a friendship treaty with Asean’s 10 members and called on one country, Myanmar, to release the imprisoned pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
But nuclear tensions overshadowed talk of human rights and climate change. Mrs. Clinton’s reference to a defense umbrella in the Middle East, which came during a televised town hall meeting in Bangkok, raised some eyebrows because it could be interpreted as an implicit acknowledgment that the international efforts to stop Iran from developing a bomb may fail.
Mrs. Clinton’s invocation of a defense umbrella is reminiscent of the so-called nuclear umbrella that Washington extends to its Asian allies — implicitly, the promise of an American reprisal if its allies are attacked by nuclear weapons. But she did not use the term nuclear, and a senior State Department official cautioned that her remarks should not be interpreted to mean that.
Israel’s minister of intelligence and atomic energy, Dan Meridor, told Israeli army radio, “I was not thrilled to hear the American statement from yesterday that they will protect their allies with a nuclear umbrella, as if they have already come to terms with a nuclear Iran. I think that’s a mistake.”
Mrs. Clinton, however, denied she was signaling any change in the American position. Rather, she said, she was trying to make even starker the choice that Iran faces if it does not agree to abandon its program.
Speaking to an audience at a former royal palace, Mrs. Clinton said, “We want Iran to calculate what I think is a fair assessment that if the U.S. 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.”
The administration has talked about bolstering the military capacity of Iran’s neighbors in the Persian Gulf so they could better meet the threat of a heavily armed Iran. It has also defended the proposed missile defense system in Eastern Europe as a potential shield against Iran.
“It faces the prospect, if it pursues nuclear weapons, of sparking an arms race in the region,” Mrs. Clinton said. “That should affect the calculation of what Iran intends to do, and what it believes is in its national security interest.”
The administration has said little, if anything, publicly about a defense umbrella, though Dennis B. Ross, a senior White House adviser on Iran and the Gulf region, endorsed the concept of a nuclear umbrella before he joined the administration. As a presidential candidate, Mrs. Clinton called for a security umbrella to be extended over Israel and Persian Gulf nations.
On North Korea, Mrs. Clinton tried to project a united front, saying that China, Russia, Japan and South Korea had pledged to carry out the United Nations sanctions adopted against the North after its recent nuclear and missile tests. These include banning arms shipments and squeezing North Korea’s financing for nuclear and missile technology.
Mrs. Clinton also reiterated concerns that North Korea may be transferring nuclear technology to Myanmar, which American officials refer to by its former name, Burma. North Korea sent representatives to this meeting, but American officials declined to say whether they had any contact with them.
Mrs. Clinton is to deliver a statement on North Korea on Thursday. In an excerpt provided to reporters, the tone remained unyielding, but the United States pledged to give North Korea “significant economic and energy assistance” if it undertakes a verifiable denuclearization.
Mrs. Clinton was stern at the foreign ministers’ meeting, where she demanded that Myanmar release Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi, who faces the possibility of years of prison time on charges that she violated her house arrest.
After Mrs. Clinton finished, a senior official said, she fixed the representative from Myanmar with a long gaze.
“It’s so critical that she be released from this persecution that she has been under,” she said later at the news conference. “If she were released, that would open up opportunities, at least for my country, to expand our relationship with Burma, including investments in Burma.”
Mr. Obama extended a ban on American investments in Myanmar in May, but an official said the president could rescind it.