Clinton on Iran: “We’re not setting deadlines”

*Update: Laura Rozen reports on Israel’s criticism of the Secretary’s remarks.

During the weekend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his demand that the “international community (read the Obama administration) establish clear “red lines” for Iran’s nuclear program. Then we were told that President Obama was “poised to announce the ‘red lines’ that would trigger a US attack on Iran“. Yet while speaking with Bloomberg News in Russia on September 9, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton not only refused to set a new red line (the current one being Iranian acquisition of a nuclear weapon), she also insisted that the US remains committed to pursuing diplomacy with Iran through sanctions at this time:

QUESTION: On Iran, nuclear negotiations have ground to a halt despite increasing noises out of Israel about a possible preemptive military strike. The EU is now talking about new sanctions. What’s the game-changer here? Does the U.S. need to state more explicit redlines to persuade Iran to take the deal that was offered and to reassure Israel to hold off from a military strike?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think we’ve maintained a steady course of our two-pronged policy. We have always said every option was on the table, but we believe in the negotiation, the diplomatic effort through the P-5+1, but also pressure. And we are working to increase that pressure. The sanctions, we know, are having an effect. The efforts that the P-5+1 have made to pin Iran down on what exactly they are willing to do are still underway, and we will be having some meetings in the next month in New York and elsewhere to take stock of where we are. So I think it’s a very challenging effort to get them to move in a way that complies with their international obligations, but we believe that is still, by far, the best approach to take at this time.

QUESTION: Is there a deadline?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We’re not setting deadlines. We’re watching very carefully about what they do, because it’s always been more about their actions and their words.

QUESTION: Right. The Israelis, of course, have their own timeline and their own deadlines in their mind. What are the latest that you’re hearing from them privately beyond what’s coming out in the media about their willingness to wait for negotiations to have time to work?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I don’t think that there’s any difference in their public and their private concerns. I mean, they feel that it would be an existential threat if Iran were a nuclear-weaponized state. And no nation can abdicate their self-defense if they feel that they’re facing such a threat.

Our message has been very clear, and the Israelis have supported us through the last three and a half years, that we had to unite the international community, we had to put the most intensive sanctions we could possibly get, both through the international community and then unilateral by the United States, by the Europeans, and others. And they really have recognized, in all of our conversations, that these sanctions are making a difference. They’re more anxious about a quick response because they feel that they’re right in the bull’s eye, so to speak, if this doesn’t end up changing Iranian behavior and their nuclear weapons program. But we’re convinced that we have more time to focus on these sanctions, to do everything we can to bring Iran to a good faith negotiation.

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.