MANAMA, Bahrain – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ate dinner on Friday only five seats away from Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. And although Clinton and Mottaki didn’t speak to each other, or even shake hands, Clinton’s speech had a distinctly warmer tone toward Tehran -- only three days before the next meeting between Iran and the P5+1 countries in Geneva regarding Tehran’s nuclear program.
Addressing the Iranian delegation directly during her opening address to the 2010 IISS Manama Security Dialogue, Clinton said, “In Geneva next week, the P5+1 will meet with representatives from your nation, the first such meeting since October of 2009. We hope that out of this meeting, entered into in good faith, we will see a constructive engagement with respect to your nuclear program. Nearly 2 years ago, President Obama extended to your government a sincere offer of dialogue. We are still committed to this dialogue.”
Clinton then spoke about Iran’s right to have a peaceful nuclear program, focusing on the possible end state if negotiations go well -- rather than harping on the international community’s long list of complaints regarding Iranian behavior.
“The position of the international community is clear. You have the right to a peaceful nuclear program, but with that right comes a reasonable responsibility, that you follow the treaty you signed and fully address the international community’s concerns about your nuclear activity,” she said. “We urge you to make that choice … we urge you to restore the confidence of the international community and live up to your international obligations.”
Clinton went on to praise Iran as the home of one of the world’s greatest civilizations, while noting that the latest IAEA report showed that Iran has not yet made clear it intends to pursue a peaceful resolution to the controversy over its nuclear program.
“We continue to make this offer of engagement with respect for your sovereignty and with regard for your interests, but also with an iron clad commitment to defending global security and the world’s interest in a peaceful and prosperous Gulf region,” she said.
When asked at the conference what Clinton expected to come out of next week’s talks in Geneva, Clinton said, “I believe that is largely in the hands of the Iranians.”
In an interview Wednesday with the BBC’s Kim Ghattas, Clinton said that Iran was entitled to enrich its own uranium, after it had satisfied international concerns.
"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 obligations."
Experts in the audience said that Clinton’s remarks about Iran’s right to enrich uranium didn’t mark a change in policy, but noted that her focus on Iran’s sovereign rights and mention of enrichment did mark a new tone ahead of the negotiations in Geneva.
“This has been policy since at least 2008, when the P5+1 put a package proposal to Iran that asked for a suspension of enrichment until Iran restored confidence,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the IISS non-proliferation and disarmament program. “She wasn’t breaking any new ground in terms of the position, but in tone is was totally positive, setting the right mood music for the Geneva talks beginning Monday.”
Mottaki was seated next to, and seemed to get along famously with, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.