By: Mike Allen and Daniel Libit
July 26, 2009 09:27 AM EST
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that Iran will never achieve its goal of obtaining a nuclear weapon, declaring to Tehran: "Your pursuit is futile."
"What we want to do is to send a message to whoever is making these decisions, that if you're pursuing nuclear weapons for the purpose of intimidating, of projecting your power, we're not going to let that happen," Clinton said.
"First, we're going to do everything we can to prevent you from ever getting a nuclear weapon. But your pursuit is futile, because we will never let Iran — nuclear-armed, not nuclear-armed — it is something that we view with great concern, and that's why we're doing everything we can to prevent that from ever happening. ... We believe, as a matter of policy, it is unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons."
As a security summit in Thailand earlier this week, Clinton raised the possibility of a "defense umbrella" over the Middle East to protect other nations from a nuclear-armed Iran, marking the first time a senior administration official has publicly broached the prospect of the Persian nation succeeding in building a nuclear weapon.
Clinton said the Obama administration might still engage with Iran’s regime, even though she thinks the people there “deserve better than what they’re getting."
Moderator David Gregory asked Clinton if the U.S. would be betraying Iran’s democratic movement if the administration decides to negotiate with the government over its nuclear program.
“I don’t think so, David,” she replied. “We have negotiated with many governments who we did not believe represented the will of their people. Look at all the negotiations that went on with the Soviet Union. …
“That’s what you do in diplomacy. You don’t get to choose the people. That’s up to the internal dynamic within a society. But, clearly, we would hope better for the Iranian people. We would hope that there is more openness, that peaceful demonstrations are respected, that press freedom is respected.”
Gregory asked if Iran is run by an illegitimate regime.
“You know, that’s really for the people of Iran to decide,” Clinton said. “I have been moved by the … cries for freedom. … People that go back millennia, that have such a great culture and history, deserve better than what they’re getting.”
Clinton chuckled heartily when Gregory played a clip of her being asked overseas if she would ever be U.S. president.
"This is a subject that is on the minds of people literally around the world," Clinton said.
About a run for herself, she said: "I have absolutely no belief in my mind that that is going to happen."
Clinton said her right elbow is still recovering after a fall last month. “There are certain moves that I can make, but there are others that are still kind of painful,” she said. “But I do my physical therapy — that was what everybody told me I had to do.”
Appearing live for the full hour, Clinton continued her increasingly tough talk on North Korea, saying: “They’ve engaged in a lot of provocative action in the last months. … It’s not going to work this time.”
“It’s not only that North Korea has, against the international norms … proceeded with this effort, but they also are a proliferator,” she said. “We know that for a fact. So it’s not only the threat they pose to their neighbors, and eventually beyond, but the fact that they’re trying to arm others.”
Clinton was asked if the effort to keep North Korea from going nuclear has failed: “No, I don’t think so, because their program is still at the beginning stages.”
“They are very isolated now,” she continued. “They don’t have any friends left. … We’ve seen even Burma saying that they’re going to enforce the resolution of sanctions.”
Clinton began by saying: “What’s important here is the clear message that we’re sending to North Korea. … North Korea must change their behavior, and we have to get back to moving toward verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner. … We’re imposing the most stringent sanctions we ever have. We have great cooperation from the world community.
“We still want North Korea to come back to the negotiating table to be part of an international effort that will lead to denuclearization. But we’re not going to reward them … for half-measures. They now know what we and the world community expect.
“We want to make clear to North Korea that their behavior is not going to be rewarded. In the past, they believed that they have acted out — doing things which really went against the norms of the international community—and somehow then were rewarded. Those days are over.”
During the appearance, Clinton also seemed to distance the administration from some harsh comments Vice President Joe Biden had made in an interview with the Wall Street Journal about Russia.
Biden had told the paper: “The reality is the Russians are where they are. They have a shrinking population base, they have a withering economy, they have a banking sector and structure that is not likely to be able to withstand the next 15 years, they’re in a situation where the world is changing before them and they’re clinging to something in the past that is not sustainable.”
Asked whether this meant that the U.S. would now act as if it possessed the upper hand, Clinton responded, “No, I don’t think that’s all what the Vice President meant.”
She added that the US still views Russia “as a great power.”
“Every country faces challenges," Clinton said. "We have our challenges. Russia has their challenges. And there are certain issues that Russia has to deal with on their own. We want to make clear as we reset our relationship we are very clearly not saying that Russia can have a 21st century sphere of influence in eastern Europe. That is an attitude and policy we reject. We are also making it very clear that any nation in eastern Europe that used to be a part of the Soviet Union…[can] choose whatever alliance they want to join.”
Clinton acknowledged that Russia has been “very helpful” in its support of the U.S. efforts to deal with North Korea, and that the nations continue to work together on matters of nuclear arsenals, loose fissile material and violent extremism.
“There is an enormous amount of work to be done between us and Russia,” Clinton said.