US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was interviewed yesterday on the Thai World Beat program. The full text of the interview is here. Of course she talked mostly about topics related to East Asia, but she did make some remarks about the Mideast that atracted attention:
And as you know, the people in Iran’s neighborhood are the most concerned and are the ones who come to see me and convey their deep apprehension about what might happen. So we will still hold the door open, but we also have made it clear that we’ll take actions, as I’ve said time and time again, crippling actions, working to upgrade the defense of our partners in the region. We want Iran to calculate what I think is a fair assessment, that if the United States extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to support the military capacity of those in the Gulf, it’s unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer, because they won’t be able to intimidate and dominate, as they apparently believe they can, once they have a nuclear weapon. [my emphasis]
So what kind of ‘umbrella’ is she talking about? One phrase that she did not use (as some reported) was ‘nuclear umbrella’. She was not threatening a US nuclear response to Iranian use of the bomb. Reading carefully, the only explicit threat seems to be that when Iran builds nuclear weapons, the US may … increase conventional weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states! Imagine the trembling in Tehran.
Whether she means that the US will militarily guarantee the security of other nations in the Mideast, even by conventional means, is not clear. And note that she said ‘in the Gulf’. This doesn’t include Israel.
Does this mean that the US has decided that they cannot or will not stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon? An unnamed US official quoted in the Wall St. Journal says no:
A senior U.S. official close to Mrs. Clinton said her comments weren’t new and didn’t indicate a slacking of the Obama administration’s resolve to deny Tehran nuclear weapons. Rather, the official said, the secretary of state was stressing that Iran would find itself more isolated, and less secure, if it continued to pursue nuclear technologies and that the U.S. remained committed to the defense of its Middle East allies. “We will not accept an Iranian nuclear weapon,” the official said.
But Mrs. Clinton said nothing of the kind.
My assessment today is this:
- The US understands that it does not have the diplomatic capability to stop Iran and finds the risk of using force too great. I think it is correct to say that the US expects Iran to get nuclear weapons.
- Iran will probably not move quickly to test or even to assemble actual weapons because of its fear of Israeli action. But it is working to shorten the period from final decision to possession of a weapon.
- Strong statements made by the US warning Israel not to act are partly for Iranian consumption, but there’s no doubt that the US fears the Iranian reaction to an Israeli attack and will try to prevent one.
- The US is even couching its policy statements in neutral venues like Thailand in pro-Arab terms.
I am hoping that Israeli political and military leaders are not expecting too much from the US these days.
Another famous umbrella: Chamberlin at Munich