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Hillary Clinton: Iran's Nuclear Activities Threaten Mideast

Clinton in Bahrain: Iran's Nuclear Activities Threaten Mideast

By Stephen Kaufman
Staff Writer

Washington - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says there is "no debate" in the international community over shared concern that Iran may be developing nuclear weapons, and that Iran's neighbors view the threat even more acutely. She also urged Iran to "engage seriously" during upcoming talks in Geneva.

Speaking December 3 with Bahraini Foreign Minister Khaled bin Ahmed Al Khalifa in Manama ( ), Clinton warned that a nuclear-armed Iran could destabilize the Middle East.

"If you're the neighbor of a country that is pursuing nuclear weapons, that is viewed in a much more threatening way than if you're a concerned country many thousands of miles away," she said.

Iran has claimed that its nuclear activities are for purely peaceful purposes, but its failure to address international concerns, including from the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Security Council, have made it subject to increased economic sanctions and isolation.

"We do not object to the peaceful use of nuclear power for generating energy," Clinton said. "Every country is entitled to that. What we object to is a pursuit of nuclear weapons that can be used to threaten and intimidate their neighbors and beyond. That is unacceptable, and it is destabilizing."

North Korea's nuclear activities have generated similar concerns in East Asia, and the secretary warned that Pyongyang and Tehran's development of nuclear arms "will spark arms races in both regions that will make both regions even more dangerous."

Foreign Minister Al Khalifa said Bahrain believes "every country in the Middle East has the right for nuclear power for peaceful use."

But, he said, "when it comes to taking that power, to developing it into a cycle for weapon grade, that is something that we can never accept, and we can never live with in this region."

Clinton said she hopes that Iran "will pursue a different path in dealing with its neighbors" as well as with its own people.

"We continue to hold open that possibility, and will look for a specific way to try to increase our coordination and cooperation, if Iran is willing to do so," she said.

The secretary told Foreign Policy magazine blogger Josh Rogin December 3 that she believes Iran agreed to attend discussions with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton ( ) in Geneva December 6-7 due to the impact of economic sanctions ( ).

"I don't think [Iran] ever believed that we could put together the international coalition we did for sanctions," she said. "And from all that we hear from people in this region and beyond, they're worried about the impact. And so they're returning to Geneva and we hope they are returning to negotiate."

If Iran is having difficulties, "maybe they'll be more responsive," she told Rogin, "but we won't know until we test it."

At the same time, she said, the Iranian leadership was "badly shaken" after the country's June 2009 presidential elections sparked months of protests across the country, and said its "decisionmaking apparatus was knocked off kilter," which made it more difficult to "get any action step out of them" during previous attempts to resolve the dispute over its nuclear activities.

"We have to see what attitude they bring [to Geneva]," Clinton said. She also said improved U.S.- Iranian relations would depend on Iran's response to the continued detention of American hikers Joshua Fattal and Shane Bauer ( ), as well as the fate of Robert Levinson ( ), "who is also in Iran in our opinion," she told Rogin.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns will attend "preparatory planning meetings" in Geneva December 5 ahead of the anticipated two days of talks between Ashton and Iranian representative Saeed Jalili.

Crowley said it was unlikely that Burns and Jalili would have a conversation on the margins of the meeting, but said the U.S. representative "will come to Geneva prepared to talk about the nuclear issue and any other issue that the Iranian government might raise."

"Were such an encounter to take place, I'm confident that Under Secretary Burns will again express our concern about the two hikers who remain in Iranian custody," Crowley said.

"We'll see what ... the Iranians are prepared to do," he said.


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