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Clinton Soft-Pedals on Fighting Iranian Attack on Israel

Clinton vowed in the election campaign a “massive” US response if Iran attacks Israel but now stresses the need to avoid an arms race.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 6/7/2009, 10:56 PM

Israel News Photo: Flash 90

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Sunday that she thinks "there would be retaliation" in the event of an Iranian attack on Israel but stressed the need to prevent a nuclear arms race. During her campaign last year for the presidential nomination, she was more assertive, stating that an Iranian “attack on Israel would incur massive retaliation from the United States."

In response to an ABC News' interviewer George Stephanopoulos's question concerning what would happen if Israel came under attack from Iran, Secretary Clinton stated, “I think there would be retaliation. And I think part of what is clear is, we want to avoid a -- a Middle East arms race which leads to nuclear weapons being in the possession of other countries in the Middle East.” She would not, however, repeat her explicit statement from 2008 that the U.S. would be a part of such retaliation.

The transcript of the exchange is as follows:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your own envoy Dennis Ross has said one way to strengthen the position the United States going into these negotiations is to make it very clear that if Iran used nuclear weapons against Israel or any U.S. ally, that would be met as an attack on the United States [and would result in a] full response. Now, that was your position during the campaign, as well. Is it U.S. policy now?

CLINTON: I think it is U.S. policy to the extent that we have alliances and understandings with a number of nations. They may not be formal as it is with NATO, but, I don't think there is any doubt in anyone's mind that were Israel to suffer a nuclear attack by Iran, there would be retaliation.

STEPHANOPOULOS: By the United States?

CLINTON: Well, I think there would be retaliation. And I think part of what is clear is we want to avoid a Middle East arms race which leads to nuclear weapons being in the possession of other countries in the Middle East. And we want to make clear that there are consequences and costs.

Her position has changed in the past three months. ABC’s "This Week” host Stephanopoulos pointed out to her on Sunday that she expressed skepticism in March about the possibility that diplomacy would stall Iran’s nuclear program. In the interview Sunday she stated, “Well, I am someone who’s going to wait and see. I mean, I -- I want to see what the president’s engagement will bring…. I think there’s an enormous amount of potential for change, if the Iranians are willing to pursue that.”

When pressed further by the questioner, Secretary Clinton added, “The idea that we could have a diplomatic process with Iran means that, for the first time, we would actually be sitting at a table across from Iranians authorized by the supreme leader to talk with us about a whole range of issues.

Her views reflect the tone of U.S. President Barack Obama’s statement in Cairo last week that Iran has a right to nuclear power, if supervised, and that his government is willing to work with Iran without any preconditions.