MANAMA, Bahrain—U.S. Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton is in Bahrain today, getting ready to deliver the opening address
at the IISS Manama Security Dialogue. But before she speaks, she'll attend a
dinner along with her Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.
The two leaders cross
paths just three days before Iran will meet with the Security Council's big
powers in Geneva for the first multilateral discussions on Iran's nuclear
program in more than a year. Dozens of governments from around the world are
gathered here in Manama, all of them waiting to hear what Clinton and Mottaki
Clinton sat down exclusively with The Cable to lay out her expectations for the Iran meeting and explain what will
follow. She said that the Iranian regime is suffering under sanctions and is
experiencing new problems with its nuclear program, which is why Tehran has come
back to the table now. But the United States is not offering Iranian leaders an
extended engagement, as in 2009. This time, they had better be serious about
negotiating right away, she suggested.
"We have to see what attitude they
bring," Clinton said about the Iranians. "I don't think we can put timetables
on it. This is more of a day-by-day assessment. We know where we're headed, and
that is to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. We know we have the
vast majority of the world with us on that. But I think we're going to have to
take stock of where we are after Geneva... The pressure's not lifting because
they're coming to the table in Geneva. And then we'll take it step by step."
She said that recent setbacks in the
Iranian nuclear program have put the Iranians in a weaker position. "If they're
having difficulties, maybe they'll be more responsive, but we won't know until
we test it," Clinton said.
If Clinton does get a chance to speak
with Mottaki tonight, she wants to convey to him that the administration is
serious about this round of engagement and hopes there will be progress, but at
the same time, the Obama team believes that Iran is probably coming to Geneva only
because sanctions are taking their toll.
"I don't think they ever believed that
we could put together the international coalition we did for sanctions,"
Clinton said. "And from all that we hear from people in this region and beyond,
they're worried about the impact. And so they're returning to Geneva and we
hope they are returning to negotiate."
But will Clinton actually talk to
Mottaki before she leaves for Washington late tonight?
"If he comes to the dinner, I'll probably
see him. But he doesn't talk to me," Clinton said.
In a separate interview with the BBC's Kim
Ghattas, Clinton said that Iran could be permitted to maintain its own
domestic uranium enrichment program, for civilian purposes, if and when it proves
to the international community that it can be trusted to do so.
"We've told them that they are entitled
to the peaceful use of civil nuclear energy, but they haven't yet restored the
confidence of the international community to the extent where the international
community would feel comfortable allowing them to enrich," Clinton told the BBC.
"They can enrich uranium at some future date once they have demonstrated that
they can do so in a responsible manner in accordance with international
Clinton told The Cable that progress
with Iran was linked to the Iranian government's actions on other items on the
"We'll have to see how the Iranians
respond on other things we've engaged them on, such as the two hikers who are
still there in prison and [former FBI agent Robert] Levinson, who is also in
Iran in our opinion. So let's see where it goes."
Internal divisions in Iran's government,
however, may be complicating its ability to strike a deal, she suggested.
"You're dealing with a regime that has
been badly shaken by the events of June 2009, the election, and the decision-making
apparatus was knocked off kilter, which meant that trying to get any action
step out of them was more difficult than it would have been prior to June 2009.
So none of this is a static situation," she said.