United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Clinton’s Parting Words on Iran

            During her last week as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton made several comments on Iran and unfinished U.S. business. The following are excerpts from various farewell interviews and speeches.  

Remarks on American Leadership at the Council on Foreign Relations
 Jan. 31, 2013
 
SECRETARY CLINTON:  … We conducted intensive diplomacy with major powers to impose crippling sanctions against Iran and North Korea. But to enforce those sanctions, we also enlisted banks, insurance companies, and high-tech international financial institutions.  And today, Iran’s oil tankers sit idle, and its currency has taken a massive hit…  

…Iran is pursuing its nuclear ambitions and sponsoring violent extremists across the globe...  So I will not stand here and pretend that the United States has all the solutions to these problems.  We do not.  But we are clear about the future we seek for the region and its peoples.  We want to see a region at peace with itself and the world – where people live in dignity, not dictatorships, where entrepreneurship thrives, not extremism.  And there is no doubt that getting to that future will be difficult and will require every single tool in our toolkit. 

Because you can’t have true peace in the Middle East without addressing both the active conflicts and the underlying causes.  You can’t have true justice unless the rights of all citizens are respected, including women and minorities.  You can’t have the prosperity or opportunity that should be available unless there’s a vibrant private sector and good governance.

And of this I’m sure:  you can’t have true stability and security unless leaders start leading; unless countries start opening their economies and societies, not shutting off the internet or undermining democracy; investing in their people’s creativity, not fomenting their rage; building schools, not burning them.  There is no dignity in that and there is no future in it either…
 
Interview with Greta Van Susteren of Fox News
Jan. 29, 2013
 
QUESTION: .... No one wants Iran to have a nuclear weapon. But as we all sort of say that, they’re marching forward in time. What’s going to happen there?
 
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as you know, our policy is prevention, not containment, and we have, through the hard work we’ve undertaken with the international community, imposed the toughest set of sanctions – international and bilateral – on any country. We know it’s having an effect. We have a great deal of evidence about the economic impact that the sanctions are having on the Iranian economy and therefore on the political and clerical leadership.
 
Now, part of what we have to continue to do is keep them isolated; keep all the countries, including Russia and China, onboard, as they have been up to now. So we’ve said from the very beginning, we’re open to diplomacy. We are doing so in the so-called P-5+1 format. But this is an unacceptable path that they must stop or action will have to be taken. At this point, we are continuing to keep the pressure on them in the pressure track, and making it clear that there’s not going to be any alternative but to deny them a nuclear weapons program.
 
QUESTION: … But the other thing is that they’re behind problems in Syria, they’re behind problems with Hezbollah, with Hamas, and they’re destabilizing to Israel, saying hateful things to Israel. We’re busy trying to contain them but we may be on a different time track than their nuclear weapons program…
 
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we’ve always said all options are on the table. The President has been very clear about that. And I’m glad you raised the terrorism aspect of Iran’s behavior, because there’s so much attention on the effort to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon that we sometimes overlook the very active efforts by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the Qods Force, their proxies like the Lebanese Hezbollah and others, who have engaged in assassinations, bombings, destabilizing countries. That has been a very challenging, ongoing threat. And for a while, I have to tell you, when I came into office, there were too many countries that were turning a blind eye to it. We have worked very hard to get the international community, particularly the region, Europe and elsewhere, to say wait a minute, these guys need to be stopped on the terrorism front. They cannot be permitted to go forward.
 
When we found out about the plot to kill the ambassador from Saudi Arabia here in Washington, there was disbelief on the part of a lot of countries, and we produced evidence; this man pled guilty. No one should have any doubt that in addition to the nuclear threat, which I agree with Dr. Kissinger is a potential turning point in history, not only because of what it would mean to Iran’s attempt to intimidate their neighbors, but the arms race that it would instigate, but we have to also keep an eye on stopping them from their terrorism.
 
QUESTION: How did they get the money to do that? If we have sanctions on them and if they’re behind supplying weapons, or as the Yemen boat that was picked up the other day, and behind Hezbollah and Hamas, where are they getting the money? Is it from Russia or – to help – to fund these terrorists?
 
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, they are a rich country. They have a lot of economic wealth and strength that has been built up over many years. These sanctions are truly biting, but there are outlier countries that still try to evade the efforts that we all have made to make it as difficult as possible to do business with them. And we’ve shut down a lot of financial institutions, we have changed the behaviors of a lot of governments and others who thought they could get away with it, but there are still rogue nations, there are still countries that are totally dependent upon Iranian resources.
 
So I think we’ve done a very credible job of toughening and tightening the sanctions, but there’s more to come. We’ll be issuing more sanctions, identifying more people, but ultimately what we want to see is Iran come to the negotiating table in the P-5+1 format and basically say they’re going to have the most open inspections, they’re not pursuing nuclear weapons. They claim that they’re not. They keep referring to the religious fatwa that the Supreme Leader issued, that they’re not pursuing nuclear weapons.
 
QUESTION: You don’t believe that?
 
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m from the trust-but-verify camp when it comes to Iran. This is what they say, they continue to say it, but we have a body of evidence that points in the other direction. I mean, if that is true, then why are they developing a missile program that has intercontinental ballistic capacity? Why are they adding centrifuges and more enriched uranium as a result? So they owe the international community – not just the United States – they owe the Security Council of the United Nations, they owe the International Atomic Energy Agency, they owe the EU and many others an explanation as to what it is they’re doing if they claim they’re not pursuing nuclear weapons…
 
Interview with Cynthia McFadden of ABC
Jan. 29, 2013
 
QUESTION:  North Korea has nuclear weapons.  Iran is moving quickly in that direction.  How concerned should Americans be, and how effective has the Obama Administration been in stopping it?
 
SECRETARY CLINTON:  Well, I think Americans should be concerned and I think that the Obama Administration has made real strides, number one, in bringing together the international community.  I faced real skepticism when I started talking to a lot of countries about what we needed to do to try to sanction the Iranian regime in order to get the message across to them that they had to give up their pursuit of nuclear weapons.  We were able to overcome those hurdles.  We have the toughest sanctions; they’re making an effect.
 
… We have to keep a coalition of concerned countries together in the Gulf and the broader region around Iran, which are the ones most at risk if this pursuit continues and succeeds, and in Northeast Asia.  Our policy with Iran is prevention.  The President has made that very clear.  We’ve taken no option off the table and we are pursuing diplomatic efforts, but there’s a timetable to this.  You can’t do it just for the sake of doing it…
 
Interview with Elise Labott and Jill Dougherty of CNN
Jan. 29, 2013
 
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, I want to read you the headline of an article in the LA Times today. It said, “Hillary Clinton’s Legacy at State: Splendid but not Spectacular.” That you were hugely popular in this Administration and around the world, but some of these big-ticket items that we’ve been mentioning, particularly the Middle East, Iran, North Korea, not solved, still intractable, and maybe even worse in some instances. Is that how you see your legacy, hugely popular but didn’t solve these horrible issues?
 
SECRETARY CLINTON: …I don’t think anybody can argue with what we did to try to set the table. And then what did we do with that? You can go down the list, and whether it’s how we handled the Arab Spring and the work that had to be done in order to try to prevent even more serious challenges, how we put together an international coalition to inflict the toughest sanctions on Iran and North Korea, not that those are solved. .. I’m very proud of what we’ve done.
 
Global “Townterview” at the Newseum
Jan. 29, 2013
 
QUESTION:  If you have issues with the Government of Iran, why destroy the people with the current sanctions in place?  It’s very difficult to find medicine in Iran.  Where is your sense of humanity?
 
SECRETARY CLINTON:  Well, first, let me say on the medicine and on food and other necessities, there are no sanctions.  And what we have tried to do, and in fact, I have approved the sending of medicines to Iran for exactly the purpose that is pointed out.  We do not want the people of Iran to suffer and certainly to be deprived of necessary medicines.  But this is a dilemma for us, and for the entire world, because when I say “us,” I’m not talking only about the United States.  But if you look at the United Nations sanctions, the European Union sanctions, across the globe, people are very worried about what the Iranian Government’s actions and intentions are.
 
We know that there is a lot of support for terrorism by the Iranian Government.  We know they send out agents and proxies across the world to do bombings and assassinations.  That’s deeply troubling.  And we also know that their pursuit of a nuclear weapon would be incredibly dangerous to Iran, to the region and the world. 
 
So we have tried diplomatic outreach.  President Obama came into office saying that he wanted to engage in diplomacy with Iran to see if there were a way to end their nuclear weapons program.  And we hope that that will still be possible.  And we think the people of Iran, in their upcoming election, have the opportunity to send a very clear message.  Iranian people are educated, intelligent, historically significant; they deserve to have a government that integrates them into the world, not isolates from the world.  So we hope that the Iranian people will speak out and make known their views to their own government.
 

 

 

Connect With Us

Our Partners

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Logo