Iran TerrorismIran looms over Clinton’s Mideast trip

Iran looms over Clinton’s Mideast trip


ImageNew York Times: Iran is not on Hillary Rodham Clinton’s itinerary in her first swing through the Middle East and Europe as secretary of state. But it is clearly, and constantly, on her mind.

The New York Times

Published: March 4, 2009

ImageRAMALLAH, West Bank — Iran is not on Hillary Rodham Clinton’s itinerary in her first swing through the Middle East and Europe as secretary of state. But it is clearly, and constantly, on her mind.

After three days of meetings in Egypt, Israel and the West Bank, Mrs. Clinton said she was struck by the depth of fear about Iran and the extent to which officials say it meddles in their affairs.

“There is a great deal of concern about Iran from this whole region,” she said to reporters on Wednesday. “It is clear Iran intends to interfere with the internal affairs of all of these people and try to continue their efforts to fund terrorism, whether it is Hezbollah or Hamas or other proxies.”

Mrs. Clinton specifically mentioned the Palestinians, saying that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was trying to undermine the Palestinian Authority by exhorting Muslims to resist Israel. In Iran on Wednesday, Ayatollah Khamenei called for aid for Gaza and praised Hamas for its democratic election and its resistance against Israel.

Mrs. Clinton made her comments after meeting the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, in Ramallah — a visit intended to show American support for the Palestinian government, two days after the Obama administration pledged $900 million in aid to Gaza and the West Bank. Mr. Abbas had his own complaints about Iran, saying after the meeting that it was trying to deepen divisions among Palestinians.

Mrs. Clinton also said she expressed concern to the Israeli government about its tight control of border crossings to Gaza, which critics say are constricting deliveries of necessary goods. She also criticized an Israeli plan to tear down dozens of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem.

Later, as Mrs. Clinton flew to Europe for meetings at NATO and with the Russian foreign minister, she again invoked Iran, saying the threat of a missile strike by Iran could be a basis for cooperation between the United States and Russia on the contentious issue of missile defense.

“It is important to make the case that I, and others, have been making, that we think Iran poses a threat to Europe and Russia,” she said. “How do we cooperate on that? This is a very rich area for exploration.”

Mrs. Clinton did not comment on a letter President Obama sent to Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, in which Mr. Obama noted that the United States would not need to deploy missile interceptors in Eastern Europe if Russia joined in a successful effort to prevent Iran from developing nuclear warheads and long-range missiles.

But she said she hoped to put negotiations with Russia on missile defense “on a serious track.” Russia, she said, is beginning to accept the argument that the missile defense system is not intended to harm Russia, but to protect it and Europe from a host of threatening neighbors.

“Iran is the name we put to them,” she said. “But it is a kind of stand-in for the range of threats that we foresee.”

Mrs. Clinton’s hawkish words seemed intended to keep Iran on the defensive while the Obama administration completed its review of Iran policy. In a meeting with an Arab foreign minister in Egypt on Monday, Mrs. Clinton expressed skepticism that Iran would respond positively to the administration’s offer of direct negotiations.

Her announcement on Tuesday that the United States would send envoys to Syria might also have been intended, in part, to put pressure on Iran. Syria is viewed by many experts as a conduit for Iranian influence in the region. While Mrs. Clinton declined to elaborate on the mission, she said, “We believe that there is an opportunity for Syria to play a constructive role, if it chooses to do so.”

Despite her tough tone, Mrs. Clinton said the United States was open to working with Iran in stabilizing Afghanistan, its eastern neighbor. Iran’s relations with the Taliban have long been strained, and during the early days of the Afghan war in 2001, she noted, Iranian officials conferred daily with their American counterparts. While the United States is delivering a message of active engagement with the Middle East — noting that the special envoy, George J. Mitchell, will return to the region as soon as Israel forms a government — Mrs. Clinton has adjusted her public statements to different audiences.

When she was asked in Jerusalem about the Gaza border crossings, Mrs. Clinton said Israel faced a dilemma in loosening its controls, since Hamas continued to launch rockets at Israeli towns.

In Ramallah, however, she said, “We have obviously expressed concern about the border crossings. We want humanitarian aid to get into Gaza in sufficient amounts to help the suffering people of Gaza.” It is not clear that Mrs. Clinton was calling for a change in Israeli policy. Israel heavily restricts deliveries of building materials, like cement, to Gaza. But humanitarian goods, like food and medicine, regularly pass through the crossings.

Similarly, Mrs. Clinton appeared not to be breaking new ground when she spoke out against Israeli plans to demolish houses belonging to Palestinians in East Jerusalem. She said the orders, issued by the city authorities, were “unhelpful.” Israel says the houses were built illegally, while the Palestinian owners said they were unable to obtain building permits. Israel ordered the demolition of 88 homes last week, and 55 more this week. “It is clearly a matter of deep concern to those who are directly affected,” Mrs. Clinton said.

G.O.P. Warns Obama on Missiles

WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders warned President Obama on Wednesday not to trust Russia to help stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons or to give up development of missile defense in Eastern Europe. In a letter to the president, the Republicans complained that his overture to Russia was “unwise and premature” and “undercuts our allies” in Poland and the Czech Republic, which have agreed to let the United States deploy a missile defense system on their territory.

The letter was written in response to one that Mr. Obama sent to Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, suggesting that the United States would not need to deploy a missile defense system in Eastern Europe if Iran no longer posed a threat.

Ethan Bronner contributed reporting from Jerusalem, and Taghreed El-Khodary from Sharm el Sheik, Egypt. Alan Cowell contributed reporting from Paris.

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