Clinton Reiterates Desire to Engage with Iran

SHARM EL-SHEIKH ~ US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on her first visit to the Middle East as America’s top diplomat, reiterated Washington’s willingness to engage with Iran if it “unclenches its fist.”

“As President (Barack) Obama says, we are willing to extend a hand if the other side unclenches its fist in order to have some process of engagement but it will only be done in close consultation with our friends,” she said at a press conference after an international donor conference on aid to Gaza.

Clinton however, declined to elaborate on remarks by a US official who quoted her as saying that she doubted Iran would respond to overtures by Obama.

“We have made it very clear that we are going to consult constantly with our friends and partners (regarding Iran),” she said.

During a meeting with her UAE counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Clinton said she was “doubtful Iran will respond” to any attempt at engagement between the arch foes, a US official said.

“She said her eyes are wide open with regard to Iran. We are under no illusions,” the official said.

Obama said last week he would pursue “principled and sustained” engagement with all Middle Eastern states including Iran and Syria.

His policy represents a clear shift from previous president George W. Bush, who rejected talks unless Iran halted uranium enrichment, the process which makes fuel for power plants but can also be used to produce the core of an atomic bomb.

The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said on Sunday that he believed Iran had enough fissile material to build a nuclear bomb. “We think they do, quite frankly,” he told CNN.

Mullen’s comment drew a strong denial from Tehran, which insists that its nuclear program is aimed solely at producing energy. “All this talk is baseless,” foreign ministry spokesman Hassan Ghashghavi said.

Meanwhile, Clinton said in Ramallah on Wednesday the United States was determined to move forward on peace in the Middle East.

“The United States aims to foster conditions in which a Palestinian state can be fully realized,” she said after talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

“We are determined to move forward … Time is of the essence,” she said of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

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