Analysis: Clinton changes slightly language on Iran (JERUSALEM POST) By HERB KEINON 07/18/12)
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At the beginning of her press conference late on Monday evening, US
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, referring to Iran, said something
many might have found rather innocuous.
“We will use all elements of American power to prevent Iran from
obtaining a nuclear weapon,” she said, after saying that everyone
prefers a diplomatic resolution to the crisis.
One might be forgiven for thinking that this is something US leaders,
from US President Barack Obama on down, have been saying over and
over for the last three-and-a-half years.
But one would be mistaken. This language, part of a written statement
Clinton read before taking a few questions, was the US ratcheting up
just a notch, or even just a quarter of a notch, its rhetoric on Iran.
And that is not insignificant.
One element of the tactics Washington and the international community
use regarding Iran that irks many in Jerusalem is that Tehran has
never really been faced with a clear ultimatum that says either they
stop spinning centrifuges and ice their nuclear weaponization
process, or wave after wave of fighter jets with bunker-busting bombs
will be on their way. Either halt the nuclear process, or face
US “shock and awe.”
Instead, what the Iranians – and everyone else – have been hearing
has been very general statements about not taking options off the
table; about the US deeming it unacceptable and not in America’s
interests for Iran to have nuclear weapons; of a rejection of a
policy of nuclear containment vis-à-vis Iran; and of the American
president saying he has “Israel’s back.”
The US also said it was unacceptable for North Korea to get nuclear
weapons, yet Pyongyang tested a device. Washington was opposed – and
stated its opposition to a nuclear Pakistan – but that didn’t deter
While all the general statements about Iran are swell, they did not
do the job. Tehran has not stopped its nuclear program, and there are
many sitting in positions of power in Israel who feel they have not
halted the program because they have not yet really felt the “or
else” part of the “stop or else” equation.
Up until now, Obama has never said, “I will prevent Iran from getting
nuclear weapons, even if it takes calling in the troops. Period.” Not
a vacillating “my objective is” or “US policy is,” but rather “I will
not allow Tehran to go nuclear.”
There may be very good reasons for not doing this, from not wanting
to tie his hands to a concern that if Tehran goes ahead with its
program despite the threats, and if the US does not act, then
Washington’s prestige abroad will be severely compromised.
But from Israel’s perspective, if the “big stick” is not clearly seen
in Iran, if the threat of an attack is not foremost in the
ayatollahs’ minds, than there will be no change in policy. If they do
not fear a credible military option, then they have no reason to show
flexibility in negotiations.
That they have not shown any flexibility so far – and Clinton said as
much in her press conference – indicates that they have not yet
internalized the possibility of a military option. But without that
internalization, the chances of negotiations succeeding are slim.
Which was what gives Clinton’s words significance. Her saying the US
would use “all elements of its power” to get Iran to stop was by no
means a military-backed ultimatum – this was not the rhetorical
equivalent of the sinking of the Bismarck – but it was a bit more
than “all options are on the table.” What will be interesting to
watch now is whether this line will become the template for high-
level US officials when discussing Iran, or whether it was a one-off
comment made specifically in Jerusalem to try and allay Israeli
Truth be told, a very similar formulation was used by Obama himself
in February 2009, just a month after he took office. At Camp Lejeune,
North Carolina, speaking to US Marines about his plans for ending the
Iraq war, Obama said he was “developing a strategy to use all
elements of American power to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear
Since that speech, however, that formulation has not been a central
part of the public debate on Iran. Clinton put it back there on
The significance of this needs to be seen within the greater timeline
of the whole Iranian nuclear issue.
Tehran has been pursuing its nuclear aims since at least 1995.
Change in the world’s policies toward it has been glacially slow, not
meteoric. Clinton’s comments may be a part of that glacial change. (©
1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 07/18/12)
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