Secretary of State Clinton Challenges Iran on Nuclear Program

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 19, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton challenged Iran on Friday to come clean on its nuclear program and ease its repression of opposition activists, saying that "the Iranian government seeks a sense of justice in the world but stands in the way of the justice it seeks."

Previewing next week's meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, at which Iran's nuclear ambitions will be a primary topic, she told an audience of foreign policy experts at the Brookings Institution that the Obama administration is still willing to engage with Iran.

"Our message will be clear: We are serious," she said. "And we will soon see if the Iranians are serious."

Clinton warned that there is "no appetite for talks without action," and she said Iran must quickly decide whether it is willing to cooperate or face increased international sanctions. She said there needs to be "movement" by the end of the year.

William Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, will join senior diplomats from five other countries on Oct. 1 in a meeting with an Iranian delegation. It will be the first public meeting between an Obama administration official and the Iranians and is intended to determine whether Tehran is willing to address concerns about its nuclear program.

Clinton did not make any demands on Tehran, such as insisting it suspend its uranium enrichment activities, and said Iran has a right to "peaceful nuclear energy." But she said international concerns have grown because Iran has refused to "demonstrate that its program is designed for peaceful purposes" and because its "continued refusal to cooperate has damaged the credibility of its claim that it does not seek a nuclear weapon."

"There will be accompanying costs for Iran's continued defiance: more isolation and economic pressure, less possibility of progress for the people of Iran," Clinton said. "We have made clear our desire to resolve issues with Iran diplomatically. Iran must now decide whether to join us in this effort."

In an interview posted Thursday on NBC News's Web site, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appeared to play down the prospects for a breakthrough, saying: "If you are talking about the enrichment of uranium for peaceful purposes, this will never be closed down here in Iran." He also refused four times to rule out Iran's eventually acquiring nuclear weapons.

Clinton vigorously defended President Obama's decision to abandon a Bush-era plan on missile defense for a different approach: "We believe this is a decision that will leave America stronger and more capable of defending our troops, our interests and our allies."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company