Speech by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the Brookings Institute (Excerpts)

September 18, 2009

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear
  • Missile

. . .

Let me begin, though, by echoing the President's statement yesterday concerning his approval of the recommendations not only of the Pentagon, but of his entire national security team to deploy a stronger and more comprehensive missile defense system in Europe. This decision came after a lengthy and in-depth review of our assessment of the threats posed, particularly the threat posed by Iran's ballistic missile program, and the technology that we have today, and what might be available in the future to confront it. We believe this is a decision that will leave America stronger, and more capable of defending our troops, our interests, and our allies.

Let me be clear about what this new system will do relative to the previous program, which was many years from being deployed. With the President's decision, we will deploy missile defense sooner than the previous program. We will be able to swiftly counter the threat posed by Iran's short and medium-range ballistic missiles. We will deploy missile defense that is more comprehensive than the previous program with more interceptors in more places and with a better capacity to protect all of our friends and allies in the region. We will deploy technology that is actually proven so that we do not waste time or taxpayer money. And we will preserve the flexibility to adjust our approach to the threat as the threat evolves.

So make no mistake - if you support missile defense, which I did as a senator for eight years, then this is a stronger and smarter approach than the previous program. It does what missile defense is actually supposed to do. It defends America and our allies. Now I know we've heard criticism of this plan from some quarters. But much of that criticism is not yet connected to the facts. We are not, quote, "shelving" missile defense. We are deploying missile defense sooner than the Bush Administration planned to do so. And we are deploying a more comprehensive system.

We are not reducing our capacity to protect our interests and our allies from Iran. By contrast, we are increasing that capacity and focusing it on our best understanding of Iran's current capabilities. And most of all, we would never, never walk away from our allies. We have recommitted ourselves to our Article 5 obligations under NATO. We have sent that message in bilateral and multilateral settings from the President's and my trips to every other encounter and venue that we have been in over the last many months. We are deploying a system that enhances the security of our NATO allies. It actually advances our cooperation with NATO. And it actually places more resources in more countries.

Two of our allies, Poland and the Czech Republic, were very willing to host parts of the previous planned system, and we deeply appreciate that. We will continue to cooperate closely with both nations, for instance, through rotation of a Patriot battery in Poland and close missile defense research and development with Czech companies. As we explore land-based interceptors going forward, we have made it clear that those two countries will be at the top of the list. And let me underscore that we are bound together by our common commitment as NATO allies and also by deep historical, economic and cultural ties that will never be broken.

Finally, let me reiterate what the President said yesterday. This decision was not about Russia. It was about Iran and the threat that its ballistic missile program poses. And because of this position, we believe we will be in a far stronger position to deal with that threat, and to do so with technology that works and a higher degree of confidence that what we pledge to do, we can actually deliver.

. . .

Strengthening the nonproliferation regime means working to bring other nations into compliance. And this, of course, includes North Korea and Iran. And let me take a moment to say a few words about Iran, which will be another key topic on the President's and my agenda next week.

To begin, it is important to recall what's really at issue, and what's really at stake.

Iran has refused for years to address the international community's deep concerns about its nuclear program. Those concerns have been underscored repeatedly by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the UN Security Council.

Iran's continued failure to live up to its obligations carries profound consequences - for the security of the United States and our allies; for progress on global nonproliferation and progress toward disarmament; for the credibility of the IAEA and the Security Council and the Nonproliferation Treaty; and of course, for stability in the Persian Gulf, the Middle East, and beyond.

Our concern is not Iran's right to develop peaceful nuclear energy, but its responsibility to demonstrate that its program is intended exclusively for peaceful purposes. This is not hard to do. Iran's continued refusal to cooperate has damaged the credibility of its claim that it does not seek a nuclear weapon.

So Iran faces a choice. The international community has made abundantly clear what is possible for all Iranians if Iran lives up to its responsibilities on the nuclear issue - the benefits of economic connections to the rest of the world, cooperation on peaceful nuclear energy, and partnership in education and science.

But there will be accompanying costs for Iran's continued defiance - more isolation and economic pressure, less possibility of progress for the people of Iran.

The Obama Administration has clearly conveyed our readiness to engage directly with Iran. We know that dialogue alone doesn't guarantee any outcome, let alone success. But we also know that our past refusal to engage yielded no progress on the nuclear issue, nor did it stem Iran's support for terrorist groups.

Over the past eight months, the President has reached out both to the Iranian Government and people. We have made clear our desire to resolve issues with Iran diplomatically. Iran must now decide whether to join us in this effort.

Yet, since June, we have seen the Iranian Government engaged in a campaign of politically motivated arrests, show trials, and suppression of free speech. The Iranian Government seeks a sense of justice in the world, but stands in the way of the justice it seeks.

Nonetheless, we remain ready to engage with Iran - not as an end in itself, but as a means of addressing the growing concerns that we and our international partners have about Iran's actions, especially on the nuclear issue. In New York next week, I will be meeting with my counterparts from the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany in the P-5+1 context to discuss the way forward and prepare for talks that Javier Solana is arranging at the beginning of October.

Our message will be clear: We are serious. And we will soon see if the Iranians are serious. This is not about process for the sake of process. In New York, we will work with our partners to put Iran's choice into focus and to stress that engagement must produce real results and that we have no appetite for talks without action.

. . .

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Strobe. Madame Secretary, welcome to Brookings and thank you for your strong and wise leadership as Secretary of State. You seemed in your speech to make clear to the Iranians that they have a choice to make.


QUESTION: But I wonder - you know, today, President Ahmadinejad said that the Holocaust was a lie; as you pointed out, he essentially stole the elections in suppressing his opposition. And he's also made clear - very clear - that the nuclear - their nuclear program is not something for discussion. Instead, he wants to kind of talk to the P-5+1 about dividing up the world and recognition for his superpower status.

So how do you affect his calculus? What is the strategy for actually getting him to understand that he has to address the nuclear program and has to reassure the international community of Iran's peaceful intentions?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Martin, as I said, there are no guarantees of results, let alone success, in many of these difficult engagements that we are undertaking. But we do believe that the opportunity presents itself for the kind of face-to-face discussions that the P-5+1, with our full participation, with Under Secretary Bill Burns leading our efforts there, to explore a range of issues. Now, as you, I'm sure, noticed, the Iranians said they had a lot of issues they wanted to discuss that did not include their nuclear program. We obviously said that is the issue we want to discuss.

I'm not going to prejudge this. I mean, we have made it very clear we're on a dual track. That dual track is the process of engagement that we have said we would pursue. We are about to commence that. But the other are the consequences. So I'm not going to speculate on what comes of this effort. We have underscored, as I did again today, that we are not in this just for the sake of talking. We don't check a box by saying we're engaged in some process and now we're going to keep talking forever; that is not our intention.

The President said that we would take stock of where we are with respect to Iran and the international community response around the time of the G-20, which is the end of next week, that we would want to see some movement by the end of this year. I'm well aware of all the problems that you have just briefly alluded to. But we're going to move forward, see what, if any, changes in approach, attitude, actions the Iranians are willing to entertain, and continue to work with our allies, many of whom are represented in this room through their ambassadors on the consequence side of the ledger.

MR. TALBOTT: Andrea, I'm calling on you in your capacity as a virtual member of the Brookings family. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: She looks pretty real, not just virtual. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: If I may follow up on Ambassador Indyk, what are the consequences? Are there deadlines? Because we've seen this kind of diplomacy before; with all due respect, previous administrations, Secretary Rice, tried to negotiate with Iran and there were objections by Russia and others at the Security Council that meant that the threat of sanctions really never could be carried out as aggressively as the United States wanted.
So I know you've said that the missile defense decision was not about Russia, but is there any indication that Russia might take another view toward Iran, that there is a time limit? And are there other threats out there? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think it is fair to say that there has been a much more concerted outreach to both the Iranian leadership and the Iranian people under President Obama than we have seen in 30 years. It's not that other presidents did not look for ways to engage Iran, but for a variety of reasons it was never carried through in a long-term, consistent manner. We, as you know, did not participate fully as a member of the P-5+1 until very recently. For many years, we outsourced our policy and concerns about the nuclear program to others to try to intervene with and persuade Iran to change course.
So we were on the sidelines. I mean, we were pacing up and down the sidelines extremely agitated, and we were just trying to figure out how to get other people to go on the field and deal with this problem. And look where we are today. We are really nowhere. The potential of the Iranian nuclear program being for something other than peaceful uses is obviously of great concern to us and increasingly to the international community.

So, again, I don't want to prejudge this. I think we have been very clear about what we are looking for. The two tracks that we are proceeding on simultaneously - we have certainly begun conversations with a number of international partners and with all of the P-5+1 members. I think if you had asked us six months ago could we get the strongest possible sanctions against North Korea that have ever been implemented against a member-state of the United Nations with full cooperation, not just on paper, of China and Russia, but active enforcement of those sanctions, I think many of you in this room would not have thought that possible.

Why did it happen? Because we have spent an enormous time listening and really working with our partners, who are partners on some issues and maybe not on all issues, but looking for ways to broaden that sense of cooperation and looking to understand how our views can be more effectively communicated instead of just walking up and down the sideline being agitated, but looking to find common ground in our assessment of the threats that we all face.

So I think that we have proceeded in a very thoughtful way - no guarantee of any particular outcome, but we're determined to persevere.

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