US: 'Direct Diplomacy' With Iran

US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice began her term by dropping a not-unexpected bombshell. The US will engage in "direct diplomacy" with Iran.

Nissan Ratzlav-Katz ,

Ambassador Dr. Susan Rice (archive)
Ambassador Dr. Susan Rice (archive)
photo: file

The US Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, began her term Monday by dropping a not-unexpected bombshell in the UN chambers. The new US administration, she said, would engage in "direct diplomacy" with
Rice's statements at the UN were in accord with President Obama's foreign policy.
Iran. Such a policy shift away from isolating Iran, as under the previous administration, is a touchstone of President Barack Obama's foreign policy. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also made that position very clear at her confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill.

"We look forward to engaging in vigorous diplomacy that includes direct diplomacy with Iran," Ambassador Rice told reporters after a private meeting with UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon. Rice (no relation to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice) presented her credentials to the head of the international body earlier in the day.

"We remain deeply concerned about the threat that Iran's nuclear program poses to the region, indeed to the United States and to the entire international community," Rice said, adding the status of Iran's nuclear program is one of the Obama administration's priorities.

The ambassador further clarified that, "dialogue and diplomacy must go hand in hand with a very firm message from the United States and the international community that Iran needs to meet its obligations as defined by the Security Council and its continued refusal to do so will only cause pressure to increase."

The pressure Rice referred to would come through "collaboration and partnership" with Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany. Together with the United States, the group, known as the "P5+1", will determine "what is necessary and appropriate with respect to maintaining pressure toward that goal of ending Iran's nuclear program," Rice said. The group is to meet in Germany in February for the next round of talks on the Iran issue.

The UN Security Council has already imposed sanctions on Iran three times over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment activities.

Later in the day on Monday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs confirmed that Rice's statements at the UN were in accord with President Obama's foreign policy, which he detailed as a presidential candidate. However, Gibbs added, "all elements of our national power" would be brought to bear in regard to Iran's nuclear program.

Sec. Clinton: 'Diplomacy Can Work'
In her Congressional Confirmation Hearing on January 13, 2009, the then-incoming Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made clear the sharp turn the new administration would be taking towards diplomacy, even with Iran.

"Diplomacy will be the vanguard of our foreign policy," Clinton said, adding that "the State Department will be firing on all cylinders to provide forward-thinking, sustained diplomacy in every part of the world.... Diplomacy is hard work. But when we work hard, diplomacy can work, not just to defuse tensions, but to achieve results that advance our security interests and values."

When asked specifically about Iran, Clinton replied: "Obviously, the incoming administration views with great
Hillary Clinton made clear the sharp turn the new administration would be taking.
concern the role that Iran is playing in the world, its sponsorship of terrorism, its continuing interference with the functioning of other governments, and its pursuit of nuclear weapons. There is an ongoing policy review that the Obama administration has undertaken, but I think as the President-elect said just this past weekend, our goal will be to do everything we can, pursue through diplomacy, through the use of sanctions, through creating better coalitions with countries that we believe also have a big stake in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon power, to try to prevent this from occurring. We are not taking any option off the table, at all. But we will pursue a new, perhaps different approach that will become a cornerstone of what the Obama administration believes is an attitude towards engagement that might bear fruit."

Regarding further sanctions, Clinton said, "We're going to be making the case to members of the Security Council who have been either dubious or unwilling to cooperate up until now that a nuclear, armed Iran is in no one's interests, under any circumstances. So Mr. Chairman, it's hard to predict how successful we will be, but I promise you our very best efforts in doing all that we can to try to achieve greater international support for sanctions and actions that could actually influence the behavior of the Iranian Government, the Supreme Leader and the religious council and the Revolutionary Guard and the Quds Force because, as you know so well, all of these are players. And so our task will be to try to figure out the appropriate and effective pressure that will perhaps lead to us dissuading Iran from going forward."

Asked by Senator John Kerry if the "bottom line of our security interests" for the Obama administration is that "it is unacceptable that Iran has a weapon under any circumstances, and that we will take any steps necessary to prevent that," Clinton replied, "The President-elect has said repeatedly it is unacceptable. It is going to be United States policy to pursue diplomacy with all of its multitudinous tools to do everything we can to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state. As I also said, no option is off the table. The President-elect has been very clear that it is unacceptable, and that is our premise and that is what we are going to be basing our actions on."