Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Remarks on Iran in Interview with Cyba Audi of al Arabiya (Excerpts)

February 16, 2010

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear
  • Military

... QUESTION: (Speaking in Arabic.) Hello, Madam Secretary. Welcome to Jeddah. It is my pleasure as well to welcome you on to Al Arabiya.


SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much. I'm happy to be here.

QUESTION: Madam, let me ask you to start with, your tour focuses on sanctions on Iran. Does that mean that a military strike is off the table?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, what we are focusing on is trying to change Iranian behavior, and the international community has been united in trying to send a message to Iran that it is time for it to clarify its intentions. And obviously, we don't want Iran to become a nuclear weapons power, but we are not planning anything other than going for sanctions.

We want to try to get the strongest sanctions we can out of the United Nations Security Council, again both to influence Iranian behavior, but mostly to influence their decision making, which we think is key to whether or not they are going to abide by the international rules and regulations that they have adopted.

QUESTION: Yet the military buildup continues and some observers feel your comments, especially yesterday about Iran moving closer to a military dictatorship, may be some form of verbal escalation. Is it?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, it's an - in my view, an explanation. People say to me all the time, what happened to Iran? I mean, we haven't had good relations with them for 30 years and they have obviously not been willing to change their views toward us. But when President Obama came in, he was very clear that he wanted to engage, and that's what he's been trying to do - reaching out to the Iranian people, reaching out to the Iranian leadership. And you have to ask yourself, why, when so many experts thought that there would be a positive response to President Obama's outreach, has there not?

And the growing body of opinion is that something has changed within Iran, that the Revolutionary Guard is assuming more and more control over the security apparatus, the nuclear program, as well as commercial enterprises.


SECRETARY CLINTON: And that's alarming, because you can deal, even if you have deep differences with elected leaders, even if you disagree with what they are doing to their own people, as we do in Iran. But when the military and the security forces begin to assert control and seem to be pushing the elected and the clerical leadership out of the way, that raises some serious issues.

So we are talking to our friends in the Gulf countries that you know very well and you cover who are understandably disturbed by what they see happening. Iran funds terrorism, they have funded actions against many of the countries in the region. So there's a feeling that they need to be better defended, and we're certainly going to help people who wish to be better defended, as are other countries who are helping. But our goal is to try to change the behavior and to use sanctions and pressure to do so.

QUESTION: So what has the reaction been from your allies here in the region now that you're talking to them? You also saw Erdogan in Doha. So what has been the responses that you've heard?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, certainly, the Saudis are supporting what we're trying to do. They understand what's at stake. Others such as Prime Minister Erdogan are still working very hard, and I appreciate all the efforts that the prime minister, the foreign minister, and other Turkish officials are making to try to convince the Iranians to cooperate.

But at the end of the day, it's up to the Iranians. They have a choice to make. Are they going to abide by the Security Council resolutions, the rules of the International Atomic Energy Agency? Are they going to reassure their neighbors that they do not have these nuclear weapons ambitions or not? That's the question.

QUESTION: Forgive me for going back to the military option - military strike option. Admiral Mike Mullen warned yesterday in Israel that - warned of (inaudible) military action. Why would he be talking about military action when you keep talking about discussions and, you know, prioritizing discussions with Iran? It's a bit confusing to observers.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think it's because he wanted to make clear that that was not what the United States was planning to do, that we are pursuing sanctions. But there are many countries - not just one country - there are many countries in the region who are very worried about Iran's actions. And there may well be those who think, well, we have to do something to --


SECRETARY CLINTON: -- protect ourselves. We believe the better approach is to join at the international community, to work together toward sanctions, to exert maximum pressure on the Iranians, and to try every way we can to change their thinking.

QUESTION: So is he in Israel to try and dissuade Israel from any military action against Iran at the moment?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think he was making a general comment, and as I say, I don't think it's about any one country.

QUESTION: Okay. Also, your aide, Jeffrey Feltman, had alluded to enlisting the help of Saudi Arabia and convincing China to accept or agree to the sanctions. What are you expecting there? How is Saudi Arabia going to help? Are you expecting Saudi Arabia to get indeed to China energy, supplies? Should they stand against Iran and therefore lose their energy supplies from that corner?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that the Saudis can certainly speak for themselves about what they intend to do. But the foreign minister made very clear yesterday that he expected the Chinese to fulfill their responsibilities as one of the Permanent Five members of the Security Council. And we believe that that means that the Chinese will join with the rest of us on the Security Council in voting for these sanctions.

QUESTION: You talked about crippling sanctions. What form will these sanctions take?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we're looking at how we can target sanctions at the Revolutionary Guard.


SECRETARY CLINTON: Because it is our assessment that increasingly, they're making the decisions, and they are deeply involved in the economic life of Iran. And therefore, we're looking at individuals and we're looking at institutions and businesses that are connected to the Revolutionary Guard to be very targeted, but very strong in trying to affect them.

QUESTION: Should you impose these crippling or stifling sanctions and be - succeed in actually stifling Iran, do you guarantee stability in the countries around Iran where Iran has influence?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Much of this is speculative, because of course, we don't know how Iran is going to respond. But it is our assessment that there is an opportunity still to try to convince Iran not to pursue nuclear weapons. And we've tried engagement, we've tried persuasion, we've tried fact-based argument.

QUESTION: And none of it really worked in the past. Why do you think sanctions would work now?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Because I think there's an internal turmoil going on inside Iran. I think there are many different voices vying for prominence. And I think some of those voices are more concerned about the Iranian people than others. They don't want to see sanctions. They don't want to see the end to their democracy. They don't want to see the rise of an unelected body or a non-clerical body, namely the Revolutionary Guard, assuming all of this power.

So I don't think we know all of the effects that could come from the international community standing together - not just the United States, but all of us saying this cannot be permitted. And we are trying to talk to the Iranian people and the Iranian decision makers.

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